Over 200 gather to protest police brutalityJune 1, 2020
By LEANN BURKE
JASPER — George Floyd. Ahmaud Arbery. Breonna Taylor. Tashii Brown. Stephon Clark. Philando Castile. Tony Robinson. Charles “Allie” Thompson.
Those were just some of the names of African Americans killed by police brutality or other forms of violence against people of color that appeared on signs held by protestors in Dubois County Saturday morning.
More than 200 people stood in a circle around the Dubois County Courthouse for Stand Up and Say Their Name, a peaceful protest against police brutality and racism in response to the murder of George Floyd by police officer Derek Chauvin in Minneapolis. Chauvin has since been charged with third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter. The event was organized by ONE-Dubois County, a local action group working for civil and human rights, equality and justice for all.
See a gallery of photos from the protest here
Protestors held signs with the names of African Americans killed in instances of police brutality and in hate crimes dating back to the early 1900s, signs that said “Black Lives Matter” and signs calling on all Americans to stand in solidarity with the black community. Joe Wood, 18, of Jasper, held a sign that read, “My Life Matters.”
“It’s getting to the point throughout the years that these protests just have to happen,” Wood said. “People have become normalized to black people dying just for living.”
Wood, who is African American, wants the community to understand that the emotions and issues behind the current protests and riots have been boiling for decades.
“Those riots are happening because peaceful protests have not been working,” he said.
The current series of protests and riots across the country erupted after three African Americans were killed in separate events in three states. In February, Ahmaud Arbery, a Georgia black man, was jogging when Gregory McMichael and his son, Travis, who are white, pursued him. Arbery was shot and killed in an altercation with the men, and the murder is being investigated as a hate crime. Then in March, Breonna Taylor, an African American woman in Louisville, was shot to death in her home when police officers in plain clothes entered her apartment in the middle of the night to execute a search warrant. Last week, police officer Derek Chauvin choked George Floyd to death in Minneapolis.
A main goal of ONE-Dubois County’s event Saturday was to bring awareness to the magnitude of the issues of racism and police brutality behind the current protests across the country. ONE-Dubois County members made about 80 signs, each with a single name of an African American killed in police brutality, a hate crime or a lynching. No names were repeated.
“We’re hoping to educate the community,” said Allison Wagner, the ONE-Dubois County member who spearheaded the event. “Education is key.”
Another goal of the protest was to stand in solidarity with the African American community and their decadeslong fight against racism in the U.S.
“It’s important that we form a strong white allyship with the black community to make the higher-ups — our government — listen,” Wagner said.
In terms of social justice, an ally is a person who is not a member of a particular marginalized group, but seeks to help end the oppression of those in the marginalized group.
Carolina Fernandez, 25, and Melissa Perez, 22, both of Jasper, attended the protest to show solidarity with the African American community. They each held half a poster board filled front and back with the names of African Americans who were killed due to police brutality and white supremacy. No names were duplicated between their two signs.
“This needs to stop,” Fernandez said. “It has to stop.”
Both Fernandez and Perez, who are Latina, said they have experienced prejudice because they are members of a minority, and those experiences spurred them to stand with the African American community now.
“It’s not about me right now,” Perez said. “It’s about them. I’m here to support their movement and what it’s about.”
Jeanne Melchior, 75, and Janice Luebbehusen, 68, both of Jasper, also attended Saturday to show their support. Melchior protested during the civil rights movement in the 1960s, and both women protested the Vietnam War in the 1970s.
After reflecting on protesting during the civil rights movement, Melchior noted how little seems to have changed.
“It just keeps escalating,” she said.
But after she and Luebbehusen remembered that Jasper was a sundown town — defined as an all-white municipality or neighborhood that practiced segregation by excluding nonwhites through some combination of discriminatory local laws, intimidation and violence — Melchior noted that a protest like the one Saturday could not have happened in Jasper in the 1960s.
“But it happened today,” she said. “And that kind of change, small though it be, gives me a hope for a better world sometime way in the future, perhaps past my time.”
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