CAMDEN, NJ — Sitting in her room last Tuesday, Yolanda Deaver, 36, took a moment before pressing play on the George Floyd video. She had caught a short snippet earlier that morning but happened upon its entirety while scrolling through her phone.
The 46-year-old Floyd, his neck held down by a Minneapolis police officer's knee, could be heard saying, “I can’t breathe” multiple times, as well as “Mama” and “Please” before dying on the curb as other officers looked on.
“It made my heart sink,” Deaver told TAPinto Camden. “Watching it there alone literally brought tears to my eyes and filled me with rage. I have sons. I have uncles and nephews and to think something like this could happen to any of them.”
The local business owner was initially set on traveling nearly 1,200 miles from Camden to Minnesota to join the latest heart of outrage over police brutality. She prompted her fiancé and other relatives to do the same.
“I wanted to go,” said Deaver, who has lived in the city since she was a teenager. “When I spoke with my family they’d seen a lot of destruction on TV and told me it was better not to go. ‘You might not make it back,’ they said. But I knew I had to do something.”
After two days, Deaver finally decided on having a march in her very own city.
Some 200 people — including the police chief, city leaders, and activists — would eventually join in the name of George Floyd, Black Lives Matter and solidarity. It was a peaceful sight, a stark difference of which could be seen just across the river in Philadelphia.
Today, Deaver finds herself among the harbingers of what has been an unlikely sight.
Seen in Houston, Oklahoma City and Flint. Police officers marching in step with residents, embracing them. Chiefs leading the call and response. Deputies kneeling in solidarity.
In the span of a week, she has inspired not only her city of 77,000 but people the world over — the police force involved in her march recognized by former President Barack Obama.
When she began, though, she hadn’t the first clue where to start.
“I had never organized a march before,” she admitted.
In a Facebook post, Deaver proclaimed a peaceful march would be held Saturday starting at her salon, Prissy Chic Hair Company, up Mount Ephraim Avenue to the Camden Police headquarters on Federal Street.
A female police officer reached out asking to join, which led to a lieutenant and ultimately the chief himself, Joe Wysocki.
“They invited me to the police station, saying clergy members and the chief wanted to meet with me and talk about the march,” Deaver said.
Saturday morning arrived.
Wysocki, Congressman Donald Norcross, and Mayor Frank Moran, among others, stood outside Deaver’s salon. Donning a black “Black Lives Matter” t-shirt, red glasses and her facemask, Deaver took photos with those who gathered.
“There was a banner that read, ‘Standing in Solidarity,’ which I asked the police chief to hold with me,” Deaver continued. “He looked over and said, ‘Lead the charge.’”
She’s been prompted more than once to host another march, Deaver said, and has been flooded with calls from reporters and fellow residents. She says whatever comes next she will allow to happen naturally.
Shortly after the protest wrapped up downtown, she headed to her empty salon on the 1500 block of Mount Ephraim.
There she could reflect. Take it all in. Scroll to see the response online.
“It was largely positive. I couldn’t believe how far the word got,” she said.
There were some who called the police involvement political, and in efforts to quell any potential violence. But Deaver said she viewed it as an extension of the community policing already taking place in her hometown — a true sign the city stood as one.
“I thought about all this as I cleaned the place up,” Deaver recalled. “My niece and a couple of others arrived later. But at first, I was alone with my thoughts and I mostly thought about Floyd.”