Earlier this month, Palmer held it’s very first vigil for those of our black brothers and sisters who have lost their lives to police brutality. For certain, it was a success in numbers. An astounding 1,500 people arrived to march and predominantly shout “I can’t breathe” in unity. A numerical result that is still sending shock waves through our community.
Although it was not a Black Lives Matter sanctioned event, it had first been mistakenly advertised as one causing a community knee jerk reaction of resistance. Immediately, locals swarmed within Facebook groups to argue “All Lives Matter” and claim the staling trope of “We don’t have racism here. Leave the rioting to the lower 48”.
Luke Howard himself noticed. A local activist of A2 rights, Howard runs the community Facebook page 907Freedom that ‘disseminates info on freedom based issues’ and from there he can be quoted saying, “You never let a serious crisis go to waste.”
Howard posted a video that has since gone locally viral. In it, he explains a disbelief in BLM and says it shouldn’t be in Alaska as a movement because “Alaska has always had a great track record of equality for all.”
Next, in a stupendous move, Howard announced a working partnership with Palmer Mayor, Palmer Police Department and Alaska State Troopers to independently patrol the march armed for the sake of “peace keeping”. During the video he also put a call out to all other “groups” interested.
Because of this, a second wave of hysteria ignited. Those subscribing to Howard’s message began threatening “leftists” with physical violence. One follower, an ex-cop, told a woman of color to paint a bullseye on her sign because he would be armed and looking for her. Screenshots of the interaction were forwarded to Howard, who thanked the woman for bringing it to his attention. Additionally, they were reported to authorities and shared throughout social media as a fellow warning and plea for caution.
Alarmed at the turn of events, Black Lives Matter representatives discouraged the vigil from taking place due to heightened safety concerns. The mayor then denied affiliation with Howard. Palmer PD denied affiliation. State Troopers denied affiliation.
Howard put out another statement claiming he had an hour long meeting with BLM that went “amazingly well”. Black Lives Matter representatives denied this additionally false claim.
On the day of the vigil, Howard recorded an interview with independent media Politadick. During the 9 minute video, Howard stands firm on his original claims of working with law enforcement. He describes being particularly asked by officers to utilize his men for a reconnaissance mission.
“To help us identify the bad apples,” Howard explained of the request.
Barely an hour later, Howard and his men outnumbered the young activist leaders under Palmer pavilion. After speaking at length about himself, he abruptly asked the youth if his men could walk with them. Surrounded by cameras, surrounded by a group that had recently been responsible for stoking the flames of racial tension against them.. It can be assessed that the youth were allowed no reasonable time to deliberate their answer. Seemingly backed into a corner, they agreed. Had they not, one can only assume they would have risked escalating the event into further hostility.
Then without thanking them even once, Howard began another speech about himself by stating the exact words, “I’ll tell you what I differ on. I’m an ‘All Lives Matter’ type.”
A prayer for peace and “softening of hearts” would end the meeting on a note of simplicity between the groups, but ultimately fall on deaf ears as it became the token piece by Howard’s followers to prove he made the vigil a success.
Cameras and attention would largely remain on Howard and his group’s minimal efforts to keep their own counter protesting peers mildly contained; such as the incident where one of them landed blows on a vigil attendee and had to be physically restrained.
Howard has since been first to be named, first to be quoted, first to be pictured in all following reports. This is an act that can best be described with one phrase to encompass them all: white-washing.
To tie things up, Luke Howard is now running for State House District 9. Let me be clear, as a brown woman born and raised in this community, I am telling you our march was violated by one man’s ploy to further his own political career.
I am telling you that if we have no choice, we have no voice.