Protestors call for equality at courthouse square

By ED HOWELL
Daily Mountain Eagle
ed.howell@mountaineagle.com
Posted 6/2/20

A group of about 50 local protesters, organized through Facebook, came to the Walker County Courthouse Monday afternoon to protest the general treatment of African-Americans in society in the wake of the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis, Minnesota.

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Protestors call for equality at courthouse square

Posted

JASPER - A group of about 50 local protesters, organized through Facebook, came to the Walker County Courthouse Monday afternoon to protest the general treatment of African-Americans in society in the wake of the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis, Minnesota.

No violence occurred during the event. 

Floyd's death has been at the center of protests across the nation, including some in Birmingham this weekend. Floyd died on May 25 after a Minnesota police officer held a knee to Floyd's neck while arresting him. The officer,  Derek Chauvin, has been arrested, although charges have not been brought against other officers who were on the scene and didn't stop Chauvin. 

While many protests across the nation have been peaceful — allowing African-Americans to vent decades of concern that they have been mistreated by police and to promote voting this year - many events have later evolved to turn violent, such as some in Birmingham Sunday night.

A peaceful protest in Birmingham changed after an area comedian, Jermaine "FunnyMaine" Johnson, mentioned the idea of taking down the controversial Confederate monument in Linn Park. Later the statue was vandalized but was too sturdy for the crowd to take down. Another Confederate-era statue was toppled.

Participants then moved to the financial district. Some reporters were injured or threatened, while businesses were broken into and some fires were set. 

In reaction, police officers were stationed at the courthouse square in Jasper Sunday night. 

A 2 p.m. march in Jasper became more known around mid-day Monday, with Jasper police spreading the word around to downtown businesses at lunchtime. A number of businesses there then announced they would close. 

During a delay, a number of people came to the courthouse square to pray, which was peaceful and short. However, the main part of scheduled march left Coke Oven and made its way to the courthouse square by roughly 3 p.m. 

The protestors first stood in the heat near the courthouse square, shouting slogans, with another large number of people watching from around the square, including a large presence of Jasper police and Walker County Sheriff Office personnel. Mayor David O'Mary, Sheriff Nick Smith and Police Chief J.C. Poe were present. 

Use of masks was mixed in light of the pandemic, although organizers encouraged social distancing — although that was almost impossible with the number of people gathered. 

Marchers shouted "No justice, no peace - we want peace," "Black lives matter," and, quoting Floyd, "I can't breath," as well as shouting Floyd's name. The protestors — who were not individually recognized during the event — said they had not come to vandalize anything, and would make the point they don't feel they are getting equal treatment. 

One unidentified person told the crowd that not just Floyd but "multiple brothers who have been killed by law enforcement. That's why these people are here today.

"They want peace. They want to live comfortably in their city. They want to live and have mercy in their city," the man said. 

The crowd went across the square to the Confederate monument to pray, with one man praying noting that not just black  lives matter, but all lives matter. 

For "all the suffering and persecution done to our people, Lord, we rebuke it now in the name of Jesus," he said, with others answering, "Amen." 

The man called for unity and non-violence after the prayer, saying "God is in control of all this." 

However, one many yelled out that it is "on our city government to take this down," apparently referring to the monument. Another man said he wished they could get  protection like they were seeing that day. 

A various points, a large number of people would shout at the same time, making it difficult to understand most of them. However, some ideas were heard at times. 

"We will not tolerate racist threats," one yelled out.

"Hey, prayer is not going to change nothing if you don't believe in it," another shouted. "But it's not just prayer. It's action. If they don't act, what are we doing this for?" People called in the shouting for people to vote.

"Stop killing us," was chanted at one time, with some saying it wasn't a "black or white thing" but one involving justice. 

"Our black people are suffering because of the damn system," one woman emotionally said. "We're tired of it." One said they were tired of police brutality.

"We want equality," one man yelled, saying systems have never been fair, adding, "We want it to be the same for you as it is for me." 

A number of whites also joined the protesters. One young white woman was tearful as she noted how people would stare at her for joining them, when garnered supporting hugs from other protesters. 

Eventually, organizers first laid on the ground in protest for a few minutes. Eventually it was decided to take a knee. T.J. Armstrong of the Sheriff's Office took a knee with protestors, which caused a cheer to go up. Smith joined him, and later Poe also joined from the other end of the crowd, turning much of the mood of the crowd. 

Delana Richardson, 24, an organizer who is a CNA and has her own business, said she created a Facebook protest so that others would meet on Coke Oven Park. She said law enforcement leaders were consulted in blocking off streets and that they would "stand with us 100 percent." 

She questioned whether other law enforcement was with the group, noting drones flying over head and officers overhead with snipers. She said officers had hands on their guns.

"They are ready for us to start a riot. But I made sure everything was peaceful. We didn't come down to riot. We want equality. That is all we're asking for. We want the same equality Gamble Park got," she said. 

Richardson said her community's park has a 7 p.m. curfew, while the children want to play at that time as they are not in school. 

She said her Facebook page is No Justice, No Peace.  She said the group would meet at 2 p.m. today as well at Coke Oven Park and march downtown. 

The group eventually made its way briefly on foot to the Walker County Jail and was later proceeding to the police department. 

O'Mary said the event turned out peaceful, which is what officials hoped for.