The crowd at its height numbered several hundred. As the marchers finished their long walk to 15th Street and back, a mass of protesters gathered around organizers in the First Street Plaza.
In the midst of the crowd, one could hear the chants that carried the marchers halfway across Laramie: “No justice, no peace, no racist police,” “Say his name! George Floyd.” “Hands up, don’t shoot.” “Say her name! Breonna Taylor.”
The peacefully assembled masses held signs reading “Black Lives Matter” and “Justice for Robbie.” Some carried flags and nearly everyone’s mouth and nose were covered by a mask or bandana — grim reminders of the global pandemic’s ever-present and ongoing threat.
Spilling out into the street on either side and even onto the footbridge, an unidentified individual shouted, “FDerek Colling.” Dozens, if not hundreds, took up the chant, repeating the explicit phrase in the rhythmic cadence of protest call-and-responds.
“F*** Derek Colling! F*** Derek Colling! F*** Derek Colling!”
The march Thursday evening was not specifically for Robbie Ramirez — the unarmed man shot and killed in 2018 by Deputy Derek Colling of the Albany County Sheriff’s Office. But marchers said the local tragedy — and Colling’s continued employment with the Sheriff’s Office — is one instance of the larger systemic issues they are rallying against.
In the wake of high-profile police killings — George Floyd in Minneapolis, Breonna Taylor in Louisville, and countless other black Americans in every state of the union — massive crowds have turned out to protest in every major American city, decrying the racism and lack of accountability they say characterizes modern police departments.
Though a city of less 40,000, Laramie turned out its own massive crowd for the show of solidarity Thursday, the third straight night of such demonstrations in the Gem City of the Plains.
For Jessica Schillinger, one of hundreds who made the trek up and down Grand Avenue, police accountability is as prevalent an issue in Wyoming as anywhere else.
“Derek Colling needs to be taken out of the sheriff’s department,” Schillinger said. “People need to be held accountable for killing people in our own town.”
Emily Gipson was marching for Breonna Taylor, who was shot when police burst into her home, acting on a no-knock warrant and bad information. Gipson carried a sign which simply asked, “Am I next?”
“I know I’m light-skinned, but I am mixed, I am black,” she said. “Am I the next person whose name is going to be shouted in the streets? Do I have to die for people to realize this is a big problem?”
The marchers expressed their anger, excitement and sorrow with the same chants heard round the country, mixed with their own specifically local calls of justice for Robbie Ramirez.
Though the march was not organized by Albany County for Proper Policing — also known as ACoPP — the group was present Thursday, seeking signatures on a petition to decertify Colling. ACoPP was founded in the wake of Ramirez’s death and has been seeking what it views as overdue justice for the slain young man ever since.
Amanda Pittman, a board member for the organization, was collecting signatures as the march finished in the First Street Plaza.
“It’s still really raw for a lot of people in town,” Pittman said of Ramirez’s death. “It’s really frustrating that nothing was done. Literally nothing was done.”
Pittman said she hopes the renewed focus on police accountability can be turned into action.
“Marches are really important, but we also need the boring, not as sexy, not as flashy work — and that’s advocacy,” Pittman said. “I hope people remember that they have power and continue pushing for change every single day. We shouldn’t wait for the next shooting to do something.”
Protesters plan to hit the streets again tonight, and keep marching each night through Sunday. The number of marchers has so far substantially grown with each passing day.
There were little to no visible counter-protesters on the ground, although several trucks laden with large American flags, drove between the lines of protesters on either side of Grand, rolling smoke and occasionally flipping off the marchers. Some marchers responded with gestures and words of their own — including one particularly tense exchange on the corner of Grand and Third Street — but it appears no violence occurred.