WASHINGTON — As protests continue to erupt around the country, a group of three young African-American activists is attempting to link the demonstrations to a list of demands.
The group, Concerned Citizens, has emerged from the nation’s capital, a hotbed of the protests that began following the death of George Floyd, a black man who died after he was taken into police custody in Minneapolis on May 25. The group’s three leading organizers, Aalayah Eastmond, 19, Seun Babalola, 22, and Ty Hobson-Powell, 24, plan to unveil their demands, which they shared exclusively with Yahoo News, at a protest in Washington on Wednesday afternoon.
Their list of 10 demands, which the group is set to announce at Lafayette Park across from the White House at 4 p.m. on Wednesday, includes police, criminal justice and government reforms at both the national and local levels, charges for all four officers involved in Floyd’s death, decriminalization of marijuana and statehood for the District of Columbia. They are also asking for charges against those responsible for the death of Breonna Taylor, who was killed on March 13 when police stormed her home and shot her during a drug investigation.
“We are simply concerned citizens of Washington, D.C. We want to bring organization to the White House protests while bringing us all under a common goal,” an introductory statement accompanying the list said. “Seeing as all of us as protesters want justice, we the people have formed a list of demands that we would like both the local D.C. municipality as well as the federal government to address with swift action.”
Eastmond is a student at Trinity Washington University and a survivor of the 2018 high school shooting in Parkland, Fla., that spawned multiple young activists focused on gun control.
“We’re not an organization. We’re literally just a group of young activists and agitators on different sections of social justice issues here based in D.C.,” Eastmond said in an interview with Yahoo News.
“We all came together and we decided to make a decision on what the next steps are, because we’ve all been in the frontlines of the protests,” she said, “but we see a lot of people with the question of, what’s next?”
The protests in Washington touched off May 29 after demonstrators breached barricades across from the White House at Lafayette Park. In the days since, the demonstrations have included a volatile mixture of peaceful protest, violent clashes with law enforcement, looting and destruction of property.
The protests were most directly tied to the killing of Floyd, who died after Derek Chauvin, a Minnesota police officer, was filmed with his knee pressed against Floyd’s neck. Chauvin has since been charged with third-degree murder and manslaughter.
On Wednesday afternoon, Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar announced charges against Chauvin would be increased, and the three other Minneapolis officers involved would also face charges.
“We’re going to give them proactive action that we need them to implement so we can make sure that police brutality is decreasing rapidly,” Eastmond said. “We’re seeing so many videos, so many new names daily, but we’re also forgetting that there are so many more that we don’t see, that are not recorded.”
The issues of leadership and demands are fraught for left-wing organizers. Prior recent social justice movements, including Occupy Wall Street, a protest movement focused on finance and corruption, and Black Lives Matter, had a relatively leaderless structure. Occupy Wall Street in particular focused on being democratic and avoiding specific demands. That approach came into question after the movement lost steam after taking off around the country in September 2011.
Babalola, an activist and prominent organizer, said Concerned Citizens is mindful of these issues. “Our biggest thing is that we don’t want to overstep,” he said. “What the three of us saw coming together was that there was a lot of energy — a ton of energy — at the White House.”
However, the group, which currently includes about 25 activists, felt the protests “needed organization, we needed demands,” he said.
“As organizers — black and brown organizers in particular — it was key for us to be able to use our talents to bring everybody toward a common goal.”
Not all of those who have been taking part in the protests outside the White House are eager for leadership, however. On Monday evening, Yahoo News asked a group of women who have been involved in the demonstrations about potential organizers emerging from the crowds.
One of the women suggested she hoped the protests would remain a leaderless effort. “I feel like there are many Martins and Malcolms out here,” she said, referencing the legendary civil rights leaders Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X.
Babalola said the Concerned Citizens organizers took pains to focus on issues of universal concern to the protesters, many of whom have different goals and approaches.
“The majority of the people that are out at the White House every day want the same things. They want charges on all of the officers,” he said of Floyd’s death. “They want … the officers involved in Breonna Taylor’s shooting to be held accountable.”
While Babalola said Concerned Citizens hopes to shift the conversation surrounding the ongoing protests and is dedicated to peaceful actions, he indicated it is not explicitly trying to rebuke those who have engaged in violent protest. “Our main purpose is really to focus on our protest — our peaceful protest — and our workings toward a solution,” he said.
“We’re personally not going out and, like, demeaning or saying, ‘Hey, you guys shouldn’t be doing this,’” added Babalola. “We’re not telling people what to do, but we’re telling people that ‘Hey … let’s get to these next steps.’”
Cover thumbnail photo: Aalayah Eastmond, Seun Babalola and Ty Hobson-Powell. (Pablo Martinez Monsivais/AP, YouTube, DHS)