Dozens of people lined Quintard Avenue on Monday afternoon holding signs that said things like “Black lives matter” and “No justice, no peace.” They cheered as people honked and waved while driving by.
One of the demonstration’s organizers, Keyara Pulliam, said she wanted to bring attention to three issues: racism, police brutality and mental health.
“They all tie in together,” she said.
It was a similar scene hours later at the Public Square in Jacksonville, where people surrounded the park and Confederate monument at the square’s center and chanted “no justice, no peace.”
Monday’s protests came a week after the death of George Floyd, who was killed May 25 during an arrest by Minneapolis police. Video footage of the incident shows former Minneapolis officer Derick Chauvin pressing his knee into Floyd’s neck. Chauvin has since been charged with third-degree murder and manslaughter.
“I just really feel like the system has failed,” Pulliam said at the Anniston event on Monday. “It’s been failing.”
Pulliam, 20, said she planned the demonstration with her friends Brittnie Davis, Ashley Cartrett and Allison Hubbard. She said this was the first time she’d ever organized such a demonstration.
“I want to show that we can be seen as more than violence,” Pulliam said. “We want to be seen as impact and inspiration.”
Blake Graham, the organizer of the demonstration in Jacksonville, said he wanted his event to be positive and bring people together.
“You see all of the conflicting stories on Facebook. People are getting mad at the way people are protesting and it’s turning into riots and looting,” Graham said. “I feel like Jacksonville is the kind of place where we can hold a peaceful protest and come together in the spirit of unity.”
Graham, who is white, said he has a black stepfather and black friends, and has seen how the “police system” has impacted the people in his life.
“I have a daughter and I want her to grow up safely. It doesn’t matter what color her friends are or who she dates,” he said. “George Floyd was the final spark in the fire.”
Jacksonville protesters marched from the square to Mountain Street and back, carrying signs and shouting “Get your knee off my neck.” Jacksonville police stopped traffic at Mountain and later at the square to allow them to pass.
Some of the protesters seemed annoyed by the presence of an Alabama State Trooper cruiser parked in one corner of the square, though protesters later brought troopers bottles of water.
Jacksonville State University student Aja Bignon said she came to the protest to call for an end to police brutality.
“Why are we not treated with love?” said Bignon, who is black. “Why are we scared every day?”
Jamyron Curry of Anniston, who had gone to both demonstrations Monday and one Sunday said he worried that widespread police brutality and racism would one day affect him or a loved one.
“How many folks is enough? How many folks before it’s somebody I know?” he said.
Still, he said, he was glad to be out there.
“I’m glad people are still pouring in,” he said on the square. “I’m just glad to know we’re not alone.”
Raven Scott of Jacksonville, who had come to the square with three other friends, said they were there to take a stand. She said she’d felt helpless and voiceless, and the demonstration empowered her
“We’re tired of just using words,” she said. “And we feel like a peaceful protest is the correct action to take.”
Lesa Lace, 36, of Oxford, said she was delighted to see the younger generations at the event in Anniston, but was disappointed that more people around her age weren’t there.
“We can’t expect them to lead if we’re not guiding them,” she said.
Lace said she felt it was her duty to be there as an American, a veteran and a black woman.
“There are American people hurting,” she said. “As a veteran, American people come first and foremost.”
Lace, who has a 16-year-old son and a 10-year-old son, said she fears that they might find themselves in trouble based solely on the color of their skin.
“This is the year my son gets behind the wheel and drives by himself for the first time, and I’m terrified,” Lace said. “My son is a great student, he plays in the Oxford High School band, he’s never been in trouble for anything, but he looks like a statistic to America.”
Michael Butner, who heads Our Community Kitchen with his wife, Evonne, said he felt “moved by the spirit” to be at the demonstration in Anniston.
“I grew up in Columbus, Ga., with my mom, walking hand-in-hand with her black sister ... I believe we’re all God’s children” he said. “If I can’t stand up now, this is a pivotal time in history, I wouldn’t be doing my mother and God justice.”
Tim Lockette contributed reporting.