Kaylee Matthews recalled her life growing up in Reedsburg with a stepfather and siblings who she described as “persons of color.”
She said the family frequently got pulled over by police if her step-father was spotted in the vehicle, and that neighbors were quick to call police if her siblings were playing in the street.
“They’re always around,” she said of the police.
Matthews, who has since moved to Tomah, joined a large group of people who marched down Superior Avenue Tuesday in solidarity with George Floyd and against incidents of police misconduct.
Floyd, an African-American, died during a May 25 arrest in Minneapolis, where police officer Derek Chauvin was recorded pressing his knee against Floyd’s neck for nearly nine minutes while three other officers looked on.
Chauvin has been charged with third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter.
Large cities across the country have been engulfed by protests and violence since Floyd’s death. The protest in Tomah was peaceful and conducted with cooperation from the Tomah Police Department. Officers stopped traffic on Superior Avenue so protesters could cross at Nott and Juneau streets.
Tomah police were informed of the march several hours in advance.
“The Tomah Police Department and the city of Tomah supports First Amendment Rights which allow citizens to assemble peacefully,” the department posted on its Facebook page. “A peaceful demonstration allows our community members to assemble and express their opinions/concerns with the assurances that they can feel safe in doing so.”
The number of marchers stretched for two city blocks.
“I’m hoping right now we’re making history for a peaceful future,” Matthews said. “I want to stand up so that the future is peaceful and people don’t have to go through everything and witness everything that we’re witnessing today.”
Reedsburg police chief Patrick Cummings said Wednesday he wasn’t aware of any profiling complaints involving Matthews’ family. He said his department takes the issue of racial profiling “very seriously.”
“Our officers go through training on unbiased policing,” Cummings said. “If someone ever experiences (profiling), we are more than happy to look into it.”
Quinton Hanson helped organized the rally. Before the march, he told the crowd that Floyd “died over a $20 bill. We all saw that horrible video. We are sick and tired of innocent lives being profiled and murdered.”
Floyd was reportedly detained for passing a counterfeit $20 bill.
Hanson blamed Floyd’s death on systemic racism.
“We’re here to let this town know that we will not tolerate racism and police brutality,” he said. “We need to make change.”
Carrie Murphy said people gathered to demand “justice being served and people being held accountable. When the system fails the people, it is the people’s responsibility to stand up and be a voice.”
Murphy said the system failed her as she navigated an abusive relationship with little or no support from law enforcement even though she obtained a restraining order. She said she spent $11,000 and 22 months to “fight the system” in court.
“The police weren’t there to protect. They weren’t there to serve,” she said. “They get to pick and choose ... it’s about how much money you have and who you know.”
Andrea Estebo, a member of the Ho-Chunk nation, said she marched “to fight for equality for all people.”
“Locally there has been an outpouring of support, but there has been a lot of silence,” she said. “They should be concerned as well. Tomah is a diverse community.”
Protesters said non-violence was central to the group’s message. Tylor Atha of Tomah was critical of those who committed vandalism and violence. He denounced people who “riot, break and destroy” as “co-conspirators.”
“That has nothing to do with us,” Atha said. “We need to stay peaceful. We live under the same house, born from the same mother, mother America. Why can’t we all sit down at the dinner table and talk about our issues and talk about our problems?”
Hanson said he has no “ill feelings” toward the Tomah police.
“They were extremely helpful with setting this up,” he said. “They’re going to keep an eye on us and keep us safe.”
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