Some 60 protesters marched Thursday evening from the columns in front of the Boone County Courthouse to Stephens Lake Park, along a different route chosen by Peoples Defense than has been the practice in recent weeks.
Roy Lovelady, one of the organizers for Peoples Defense marches, said that they are changing the route of some of the protests to get the attention of the people who have been avoiding them.
“A lot of people have avoided the protest, but a protest is meant to get the attention of the people so that they can hear what we have to say, and you can deliver the message that you are trying to deliver,” said Lovelady.
“If we are continuing to take the same old route and they are avoiding us, we’re not reaching the people that we are trying to reach,” he said.
For most of June, the group has marched through the District area of downtown with stops at police headquarters, City Hall, the courthouse and other locations as they have called for an end to police brutality and marked the death of George Floyd who died while being arrested by a white Minneapolis police officer.
As they have done every night, rally attendees lay or knelt for 8 minutes and 46 seconds in honor of Floyd, whose death Lovelady called the catalyst for the peaceful demonstrations.
Chanting and singing, marchers Thursday turned east on Walnut Street and headed for the park, where they stopped for speeches, water and a break. As they marched, cars blocked intersections along the route to protect those protesting.
Speakers told the crowd that on Thursday they were marching in the name of Tamir Rice, a 12-year-old boy who was killed by Cleveland police in 2014. He would have turned 18 Thursday.
Entering the park the procession loudly chanted, “The people united will never be defeated.”
At the amphitheater in the park, several speakers addressed the crowd, sharing their experiences with equality from their personal perspective.
Jacquelyn Watts spoke as an African American mother about “the ability to protect your kids. It’s what makes you a good mother or a good father. You’re not going to keep having kids if you can’t protect them.”
“Are you going to keep having kids and bring people in this world that you know you can’t do nothing for?” she asked.
Dani Perez expressed frustration with the labeling of Hispanic and Latino persons by others.
“I am passing white and I feel like my perspective isn’t authentic because colorization is a very real thing,” Perez said. “I get treated very differently when I’m with my white mom than I do with my third generation, born in Michigan, Mexican father.”
And Christina Gonzales spoke from an Asian American perspective: “Anti-blackness in the Asian community is synonymous with kicking below the belt. In the homeland in Asia, casteism led to colorism which led to racism.”
Lovelady read the poem written by Langston Hughes “Let America be America again” which says in part, “There’s never been equality for me, Nor freedom in this ‘homeland of the free.’”
DeMarco Winston, who has been active at many of the marches, told the group that equality starts with your own race treating everyone equal.
”We are in a crucial moment in our country where there is vast public support for reform,” lawyer Stephen Wyse said. “There are major bills pending in Congress both sponsored by Democrats and Republicans. I think it’s a real chance that we can pass forward.”
After the 30-minute stop in the park, the crowd went back on Broadway until it hit Eighth Street, ending the march at the courthouse.
On the way, protesters stopped for videos and photos under a Boone Hospital Center banner saying “Heroes Work Here,” in honor of health care workers.
When the march ended the leaders asked for individual protesters to talk about their experiences.
Kirubel Mesfin, an MU student, spoke about his experience as a Black man at a gas station this week, when a woman behind the counter asked him to open his bag, thinking that he might have stolen something. When she saw that he hadn’t done anything she apologized and asked him to wait a minute so she could call the police and tell them he hadn’t stolen anything.
Sunday afternoon will see another Black Lives Matter protest starting at Boone County Courthouse, with more than a thousand individuals showing interest in attending it, according to the Facebook event page Thursday afternoon.
A June 7 protest drew the largest number of people since the demonstrations began in late May. Christopher Watkins Jr. and his younger brother Markiez Smith, both organizers, plan to continue to fight for what they said is right.
“Our biggest challenge right now is making change into reality,” Watkins said. “Being steady, being involved with the Columbia Police Department … so that we can teach our youth and get back to our community and put things on notice that are going on in our community.”
Sunday’s protest is planned to start at 3 p.m., an hour later than the one held June 7, which Watkins hopes will make it better for more people to come out, and also allows Smith more time to set up stations offering people snacks, water, hand sanitizer, masks and first aid.
Many individuals contacted Watkins and Smith on Facebook wondering what they can do to be part of the movement, he said.