Reflections from Black Unity’s Thurston Protest: An Interview with Claire Reyna

Editor’s Note: We have edited for grammar and punctuation.

A black-and-white photograph of Claire Reyna, wearing a tie-dye shitt with large black X and two fists speaks into a mic she's holding with her left hand. In her right arm is her daughter. Behind them is a trailer that has had it's roof cut off. A speaker is attached to it. To the left of Claire is another BU leader.
Black Unity’s Claire Reyna holds her daughter while speaking to the crowd prior to marching in the Thurston neighborhood on July 29, 2020. [Robert Scherle]

DSM: What have you been up to since the protest and subsequent lawsuit?

CR: I finished getting my Masters of Science in Early Interventions/Early Childhood Special Education, along with my teaching license! I have been working as a early intervention specialist for a year now and absolutely love it. I continue to use my voice to fight against police brutality and stand up for the LGBTQIA+ and Black communities. And, last but not least, I have been raising my two beautiful daughters

DSM: It has been two years since the events of July 29, 2020. How are you feeling about that day now?

CR: July 29th, 2020 was not the first time dealing with racism within the community. As with many Black and brown people, we have dealt with racism on various levels growing up in Springfield. My experience growing up was constantly questioning myself, asking ‘am I crazy or is this person treating me differently because I’m Latina,’ constantly being shut down by my peers who said that I was just being sensitive. The horrible mistreatment by the Springfield Police Department and racist community members of Springfield brings back bad memories for many of us but it has allowed us to take legal action. The lawsuit we have against SPD is essential in demanding accountability and change.

DSM: What from that night has stayed and still has an effect on you?

CR: I would say the grief that came from that day. As an organizer watching my friends, other fellow organizers, and allies who came out in support who were then, so unexpectedly, brutalized for exercising their right to march and chant.

Many suffered serious injuries, and many were deterred from exercising their rights in Springfield after that.  The violence of cops and racists that night and the obvious collusion made it clear that the cops were going to leave us in danger and turn a blind eye to racist violence in Springfield.

DSM: How does it make you feel knowing that Springfield is still sending out officers to protests, not even in their own city, that were involved that night?

CR: It’s not surprising. 

It all boils down to SPD refusing to hold themselves accountable which, I believe, is reflective of most police departments across the nation. They hide behind their unions and do anything to dodge accountability. Even after two years of countless protests across the nation speaking out against police brutality, there are still innocent Black and brown individuals being murdered by police. This underlines why many are for completely abolishing the police because police officers, and the system they work within, continue to show their inability to change.

DSM: “J29,” as the protest is often referred to, is, and always will be, a defining point in the history of Springfield and its police department and it had an impact that was, undeniably, far reaching. What would you say to the next generation of activists as they rise up in the next few years?

CR: 1) Educate educate educate! Black Unity spent much of our time trying to educate the community in Lane County. Due to the majority of Springfield and Eugene being white, we felt, as brown and Black folks, that it was important to help get the community to understand why we are angry and how we have continuously been failed by the system on various levels. The good thing about the July 29th protest is that it shed light on what we meant when we talk about  “systematic racism” and biases. The protest clearly showed how SPD automatically defined Black Unity and its followers as a dangerous group and a threat to the community solely due to us being a group that fought against racism and police brutality.

This “threat” they thought we posed to the  community caused them to illegally shut down our First Amendment rights. The consequence of their biased train of thought allowed dangerous white supremacists to attack Black Lives Matter protesters. Their biases lead to clear collaboration with these dangerous racists due to the two groups common denominator of stereotyping BLM activists and protesters as threats to our community.

2) Don’t give up! It’s been two years since the protest, one year since the lawsuit was filed, and probably still have a couple years to go. July 29th protest was during a peak of time where speaking up against police brutality, being an activist, an ally for black lives was “trendy” — now not such much and those who can have moved on. Don’t give up when it gets hard, take care of yourself, and continue to educate yourself. 

3) Channel your sadness and anger into fuel for you to make change! Protesting is one step. Get a seat at the right tables and make your voices be heard to promote change!

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