Couple protests for Black Lives Matter

Photos by Kayla Renie/The Herald
Brandon Grindle, left, and his girlfriend, Sophia Smith, both of Huntingburg, protest for Black Lives Matter at the intersection of Sixth and Main streets in Huntingburg on Saturday. This is the second week in a row that Grindle and Smith have held up signs in support for Black Lives Matter, and they plan on continuing to do so. "Even if there's not enough people to march, at least we can get the conversation started," Grindle said.

By LEANN BURKE
lburke@dchereald.com

HUNTINGBURG — As Brandon Grindle, 18, of Huntingburg watched the news following the death of George Floyd, he was reminded of the Ferguson unrest of 2014.

He remembers the protests and riots that erupted across the country after the fatal shooting of Michael Brown by police officer Darren Wilson. This time, Grindle once again watched protests and riots spread across the country following the death of George Floyd at the hands of former Minneapolis Police Officer Derek Chauvin and felt history repeating itself.

“This time around, I did a lot more research about it and decided this isn’t right,” Grindle said.

The decision led Grindle and his girlfriend, Sophia Smith, 19, to begin protesting at the corner of Main and Sixth streets in Huntingburg. The couple took to the street holding signs that said “Black Lives Matter” and “No Justice No Peace” a few days last week as their work schedules allowed, and they plan to go out again this week.

“I know us in our small town won’t make a huge difference,” Grindle said. “But I still want to try to make a difference locally.”

He said that as a white man, he hasn’t had negative experiences with local police officers, but he has friends in minority communities who have come away from some interactions wondering if they’d been profiled.

Brandon Grindle, left, and his girlfriend, Sophia Smith, both of Huntingburg, protest for Black Lives Matter at the intersection of Sixth and Main streets in Huntingburg on Saturday.

“It’s not anything super egregious, but more like, ‘Did you really need to pull them over for that?’” Grindle said.

Although those friends have yet to join Smith and Grindle in protest due to scheduling conflicts, Grindle said they’ve been supportive and want to join in when they can.

Grindle and Smith said that so far, they’ve received an overall positive response. Many drivers honk and wave at them as they pass or hold up a thumbs up. One day, a man brought them water bottles, and on Saturday, a lady brought them treats from Dairy Queen. A few times, Smith said, she sees children look at them out car windows, then talk to their parents. She hopes they’re asking about why she and Grindle are protesting. “I think it’s starting conversations,” she said. “There’s been more positive reactions than I was expecting.”

Of course, they’ve also had their share of hecklers. Some drivers who pass yell out their windows “All Lives Matter” or “White Lives Matter.”A few have cussed at them. For the most part, Smith and Grindle shrug those people off.

“Yes, all lives matter, but that’s not the issue we’re focusing on right now,” Smith said.

An analogy Smith heard to explain Black Lives Matter versus All Lives Matter is a house on fire. Yes, all the houses in the neighborhood matter, but when firefighters show up, the focus is on the house that’s burning and how to put the fire out.

In addition to protesting — which Grindle and Smith plan to continue to do for the foreseeable future as their work schedules allow — the two have also looked into the Defund the Police movement and how some of the funds allotted to police departments could be reallocated to other social supports, such as social workers, other mental health professionals and municipal staff to take the burden of nonviolent calls off police officers.

Brandon Grindle, left, and his girlfriend, Sophia Smith, both of Huntingburg, protest for Black Lives Matter at the intersection of Sixth and Main streets in Huntingburg on Saturday.

In a situation with an addict, for example, an addiction specialist could be the first responder to help guide the person to treatment rather than having the addict be arrested and put into the criminal justice system, Grindle said. In another example, municipal officials could respond to noise complaints and talk to the two neighbors rather than sending police officers. Such a system would also free up time for police officers so they could dedicate themselves to violent crimes and investigations.

Grindle emphasized that the Defund the Police movement as a whole does not want to see the police force abolished. Rather, the goal is to reallocate funds and services so that police are dedicated only to crimes and criminal investigations, rather than responding to mental health situations, noise complaints and other situations that could be better handled by others.

“If you can shift [the police’s] focus away from issues that could be better handled by social workers, then they can get to the big situations,” Grindle said.

Grindle and Smith plan to talk to local leaders within the next month to find out how funds are allocated locally, to learn about local crime statistics and to discuss possible changes to the system.

“Even on a local level there could be better ways to allocate funds so [the police] don’t have to deal with so much,” Grindle said.

For both Grindle and Smith, the protest and the change they hope to begin are about using their voices to support minority communities and bring about positive change. As they continue to protest and start conversations locally, they hope others will join.

“If I don’t speak up, then I’m just as bad as the people speaking out against [Black Lives Matter],” Grindle said. “I know I’m just one person, but I have to try.”




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