On Wednesday, the ninth day of nationwide demonstrations protesting the murder of George Floyd and police brutality against African-Americans, two young Muslim women organized a peaceful march from ISM at 13th and Layton that drew more than 300 people.
“I was actually not expecting that big of a crowd,” said organizer Dana Sharqawi, 18, a student at Marquette University. “It was such a last minute thing.” Sharqawi said she and her fellow organizer, Sumaya Abdi, 19, a student at UWM, first got the idea on Monday. “All we did was make a flyer and post it on social media, and suddenly everyone was reposting that.”
The march from ISM, along with another southside march from Humboldt Park in Bay View, was also announced on 88.9 Radio Milwaukee. The prior day’s large protest march in Bay View ended in tear gas when protestors attempted to march onto the Hoan Bridge.
Before Wednesday’s ISM march, Sharqawi and Abdi led the demonstrators in 8 minutes, 46 seconds of silence to acknowledge the death of George Floyd. That is the length of time Derek Chauvin pressed his knee into Floyd’s neck while he lay handcuffed on the ground. A teenage girl recorded the incident on her phone; the video sparked global outrage.
The group gathered at ISM was patient and silent, standing quietly in the hot sun for the entire 8 minutes and 46 seconds.
Since Floyd’s death in police custody ten days ago, demonstrations have erupted in all 50 states and around the world. Among the reportedly 430 U.S. cities where demonstrations have taken place were the Wisconsin towns of Green Bay, Appleton, and Sheboygan. On Wednesday, a group of people took a knee at The Corners of Brookfield shopping center to commemorate Floyd.
Wednesday’s march from ISM was noteworthy for its sense of unity and its peacefulness. Young people of all colors have been leading the marches in Milwaukee and other cities, but the march from ISM also had a neighborhood vibe. Moms and dads brought young children. One woman pushed a baby carriage while her friend carried a sign. A woman who brought her daughter held a sign that said, “All mothers were summoned when George Floyd called out for his momma.”
The demonstrators waved their handmade signs expressing strong personal feelings as Sharqawi and Abdi led them down a preplanned route to Howell Avenue across from the airport with chants of “Say his name! George Floyd!” and “No justice, no peace!” Some people joined in their cars, a practice that’s become common during the pandemic. Drivers honk their horns, and passengers standing in open sunroofs hold up signs.
ISM security was on hand, passing out water bottles on the hot afternoon. A Milwaukee PD squad car cruised by, but there was no notable police presence.
At the Clark station at the corner of 13th and Layton, a man sitting in his car shouted, “Go start another riot!” He followed that up with, “You won! He got arrested.”
The demonstrators were unfazed, though one remarked to a friend, “Yeah, but he only got third degree.” That was before the announcement by Minnesota’s attorney general Keith Ellison that the charge against Floyd had been increased to second degree and that three other officers involved were charged with aiding and abetting. Ellison is the first Muslim elected to Congress, this is his first term as Minnesota’s attorney general.
After the march, demonstrators returned to the ISM parking lot for a rally where imams Qari Noman and Ameer Hamza spoke. Imam Hamza said he told listeners, “For too long, America’s knee has been on the neck of people of color. This right here is another wake-up call. If 9/11 was a political wake-up call, then the death of George Floyd is a moral wake-up call. We keep waving the flag of Bilal so proudly.” Bilal ibn Rabah was one of the most trusted companions of the Prophet (PBUH) and is revered as the first man to call Muslims to prayer. Of African descent, he was born a slave in Mecca before the early Muslims bought his freedom. However, Hamza said in a follow-up phone call, “We [still] need to detox our communities from bigotry and racism.”
Pardeep Kaleka, the executive director of the Interfaith Conference of Greater Milwaukee, also spoke at the rally. Kaleka’s father died in the 2012 Sikh Temple shooting perpetrated by a white supremacist.
“My message was that the youth really resurrected the life of George Floyd, as they have been stepping up as leaders,” Kaleka said during a phone conversation. “We should support them and everything they do to create systemic change. They are the solution.” Kaleka told his listeners at the rally, “Keep marching, keep investing in the future.”