Jeremy Papasso/Staff Photographer
(Jeremy Papasso/Staff Photographer
Speaking to a crowd in Boulder’s Central Park on Friday morning, KD Nixon walked over to a police officer and shook his hand.
“I couldn’t do that growing up. I was scared to do that,” said Nixon, a young black man who grew up in DeSoto, Texas, and came to the University of Colorado to play football three years ago.
Nixon and dozens of other CU athletes, coaches, administrators and community members gathered on Friday for Buffs March. An estimate of more than 500 people, including police officers, took part in the roughly mile-long walk to support the Black Lives Matter movement and protest against racial injustice in the wake of the death of George Floyd.
On May 25, Floyd, a black man from Minneapolis, died after being restrained by police. Floyd pleaded with officers that he couldn’t breathe as they held him to the ground and one officer, Derek Chauvin, pressed his knee into Floyd’s neck for 8 minutes, 46 seconds.
Those who participated in Friday’s Buffs March, took a knee for 8:46, remaining silent throughout with fists raised, at the end of the walk.
“It’s a blessing,” Nixon said of seeing so many people take part in the protest. “This is authentic. This ain’t nobody trying to, you know, bring racism against people. No, this is everyone versus police brutality. This is everyone standing together saying, ‘Let’s be stronger.’”
Chauvin has been charged with second-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter. Three other officers at the scene were charged with “aiding and abetting second-degree murder while committing a felony, and with aiding and abetting second-degree manslaughter with culpable negligence,” according to the Minneapolis Star-Tribune. All four officers were fired.
Floyd’s death is the latest high-profile incident of police killing black people and it has prompted demand for change and an end to racial injustice across the country. There have been protests and riots around the nation in the aftermath of Floyd’s death. CU student-athletes wanted to do their part, in a peaceful way.
“I felt it was important to do this because this is something that’s not just happening because of George Floyd,” CU football player Chris Miller said. “We’re doing this for all 400 years of slavery, the oppression, Jim Crow, you know, next thing after next thing. It’s sad to say this, but this stuff is regular. You see it happening to somebody and it’s like, ‘Damn,’ but in reality I know it could be me. I’m out here and standing up for this and I’m trying to be peaceful, because we can’t be violent because that just hasn’t worked. I’m just going try to use our platform, whatever we can just to help and change.”
Head football coach Karl Dorrell, along with other coaches at CU, have had virtual meetings with their teams and let them voice their opinions and frustration about the racial injustice. Hearing those conversations sparked ideas for taking action.
“Our team, including coaches, we all were frustrated last weekend, and we came in Monday just feeling like we’re tired of hearing all the rhetoric about how things need to change,” Dorrell said. “We wanted to do something with action to express what we’re all about.
“We want to embrace each other’s cultures. We need to create better understanding of each other. I talked to my team that they’re the best instruments of change. … Look at this turn out (of support) and that’s what I think is going to open their eyes about how important their viewpoint is in our society. Our best change is really to empower our young people.”
The Buffs March was led by Nixon and other student-athletes at CU and then gained support from coaches and administrators.
“I think the best part of this event is that our student-athletes asked for it, and our department was all-in,” said CU women’s basketball coach JR Payne, who walked with several members of her staff. “I think it’s so important that we spend a lot of time listening. I spent hours upon hours on Zoom calls lately but said very little. Hearing people’s experiences and learning other people’s experiences. And the truth is heartbreaking. It’s absolutely heartbreaking. I’m really proud of our athletes for asking for this. I’m proud of our department for being all-in to do it. I just hope it sparks more conversation.”
Miller said the past couple of weeks have been an emotional roller coaster as he’s seen peaceful protests, violent protests, police attacking protestors, and looting. Ultimately, Miller, who like Nixon is a young black man from Texas, hopes all the protests around the country lead to change.
“It takes more than just this one action,” he said. “Some day in the future if I have kids and great, great grandkids, they don’t ever have to do it again. I was thinking back because Martin Luther King marched (in the 1960s) and everything so that we won’t have to be here again, but we’re here. So we’re just trying to make this the last time we have to be here in this type of situation. We’re all one race – the human race. We stand together and we’re united.”
Nixon has been trying to spread a positive message of unity and said he’s “happy for the world” as he watches so many people come together to fight against racial injustice.
“All lives matter, black lives matter,” he said. “It goes together. You’ve seen my fellow brothers and sisters that are white supporting. We are a family and it is crazy that the whole Boulder family was out here. It’s a blessing.
“Even cops are kneeling. I just shook the cop’s hand today. They see it can be peaceful. That’s the best way to do it is be peaceful. I’m just seeing what we can be. I’m not looking in the moment because I know we can do good better. … If I think positive, I’ll bring positive, so why not bring a change? And that’s what we just did today.”