US Marine veteran stood outside Utah State Capitol in silent protest for so long his shoes started melting
- US Marine veteran Todd Winn stood outside the Utah State Capitol building in Salt Lake City on Friday in support of the Black Lives Matter movement.
- Winn stood for three hours in full dress uniform as temperatures rose to 100 degrees (37 degrees Celsius). It was so hot that the heels of Winn's shoes melted off.
- He held a sign that read: "Justice for George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Tamir Rice, and countless others."
- Black tape covered his mouth with the words "I can't breathe" written across it. Winn said he wanted his protest to be an "extended moment of silence."
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Todd Winn, a US Marine veteran, made a powerful statement while supporting the Black Lives Matter movement on Friday, standing alone in full dress uniform in front of the Utah State Capitol as temperatures rose to 100 degrees (37 degrees Celsius).
Winn, a two-time Purple Heart recipient, stood outside for three hours in complete silence with a thick piece of black tape across his mouth. The tape featured the words "I can't breathe" written across it.
- During the display, temperatures became so hot that the heels of Winn's shoes melted off.
Winn stood in the same spot for three hours. He refused water and barely moved, except to take a knee and stand at attention.
- "I saw the tape over his mouth and I said, 'Oh my god, this is unbelievable,"' photographer Robin Pendergrast, who captured Winn's solo protest for the Black Lives Matter movement, told Insider.
"I knew that the statement he was making was pretty special for a lot of people."
Pendergrast had been driving by the Capitol to see if any demonstrators were gathering early for a protest that afternoon when he first spotted Winn.
"I see this single blue figure, standing in front of the opening panel to the Capitol, with a homemade banner on a stick," Pendergrast recalled.
He was immediately struck by the image of Winn, alone in his full military uniform.
- "I had to get out and support him," Pendergrast said. "Immediately, the respect was there."
One of Pendergrast's photos was later shared to Reddit, where it quickly received 126,000 upvotes and 4,000 comments.
Among the latter was Winn himself, who explained that the mission for his solo protest had been to "silence my own voice."
"I deliberately chose to treat this as an extended moment of silence, because the voices of so many non-whites are often not heard," he wrote. "I do not consider this a political issue, I consider it a human issue, and a global one at that."
Winn said he didn't plan his protest "in coordination with any group" and wasn't trying to "espouse any political ideology" with it, other than "the inalienable rights and protections all Americans should expect to be provided."
"I swore to uphold those rights," he added. "And I feel this is one way of doing so by speaking out against discrimination and failed training, procedure, and oversight."
- Winn said he hoped his protest would strike a nerve with those who had been ignoring global demonstrations in support of the Black Lives Matter movement.
"I hope it will be seen by individuals who would normally tune out the protesters and allow them to - at least for a moment ?- stop and consider what is really being asked for here," he wrote.
"Equality, justice, fairness. The right to assemble. The right to be free from discrimination no matter the colour of your skin. The right not to fear the police forces whose duty is to protect and serve communities. These should not be partisan political issues, but globally valid concerns we all should be willing to support together."
Katie Steck, Winn's girlfriend, told KSL-TV that the Marine veteran has been "very angered and appalled by the injustices that have been happening" in the US.
"Seeing a lot of things that have happened, that's not the kind of America he wants," she added. "That's not what he wants to represent."
In addition to the triple-digit heat, Winn's protest was all the more challenging because he has chronic fatigue that stems from traumatic brain injuries he sustained while serving in Iraq, Steck said.
Winn revealed on Reddit that he was wounded twice in the same month after he was deployed to Iraq in 2005. He received two Purple Heart medals in November of that year and was medically discharged.
- The veteran noted that he has received criticism for protesting in his dress blues.
"I recognise there are many active duty and veteran service members who will not be happy that I demonstrated in my dress uniform," he wrote. "I understand and respect these feelings. It was not a decision I made lightly to do this. We each have to decide for ourselves how to advocate."
But the image of Winn protesting in his uniform has clearly impacted many. Pendergrast told Insider it was one of the most powerful moments he has witnessed in his 30 years as a photojournalist.
"I know his intent was not to be a show-off," Pendergrast said. "He's there and he's making a statement, for his generation."
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