A little rain did not dissuade demonstrators from gathering in Miller Park on a rainy Monday evening. It was a shorter and more poignant rally, one that went from the open space of Miller Park to the new “Black Lives Matter” mural in front of the Bessie Smith Center on MLK.
Rev. Charlotte S.N.N. Williams christened the mural by going through the history of the ancestors of the black community and paying homage to their struggles.
As she went from the history of the great kingdoms of ancient Africa to the civil rights movement, Rev. Williams punctuated each monologue with the word “a??.” (pronounced “ah-shay”), which means “so be it” in Yoruba.
“For all of those that after the Civil War, they just wanted to live in peace and created their own towns like Rosewood, Black Wall Street were destroyed,” said Rev. Williams. “Fires and bombs were dropped on them. All because they wanted their own freedom and even though separate and unequal, they wanted their own communities. Why don’t black people have their own stores or businesses? It’s because of state-sanctioned violence. Dreams were gone and hope was gone. I say a??.”
As she said the word “a??”, organizers Cameron “C-Grimey” Williams and Marie Mott poured out a small dash of water onto the pavement. Earlier that night, Mr. Williams denounced violence or threats of violence, and said the protests are explicitly non-violent.
“Our movement “I Can’t Breathe Chatt” and all of the other organizations we work with advocate for peaceful and non-violent demonstrations. We do advocate for using civic engagement, so if a business is engaging in racism, do call and express your disdain. Or do a Google or Yelp review.”
“But don’t ever threaten violence. That’s not our motive at all. So if that did happen, it was nobody within our organization. We don’t want fear in anybody’s heart. We’re acting in peace and love and are getting death threats.”
Mr. Williams and protesters had been under scrutiny after Shuford’s’ BBQ said someone threatened to burn down their business after it became public Shuford’s had been paid to cater a “Back the Blue Rally.”
Mr. Williams also briefly spoke about the Sheriff’s Department, and asked about who would be held accountable for the department losing hundreds of hours of video.
“If all of this is happening, then someone should be held accountable,” said Mr. Williams. “Who is getting fired? There’s no way I can lose a year and a half’s worth of material from my job and at least not get written up. So where is the disciplinary actions? So again, we’re disappointed in the Sheriff’s Department and how justice isn’t being served.”
When Marie Mott had the microphone, she praised Central High School’s valedictorian DayOnna Carson, whose microphone was cut off prior to her reciting, "No Justice. No Peace" at the end of her speech.
“I want to thank you, miss DayOnna Carson, and I want you to show them that the best revenge is massive success,” said Ms. Mott. “Go to school, keep on being great, and I look forward to seeing her here in person on Friday, or having a recording of her entire speech without interruption.
“Not only was she valedictorian, but that young African American woman is going to Harvard. One of the most prestigious universities in the world, and walking the same halls W.E.B DuBois walked in family. That’s major.”
She also said, “It’s not good enough for you to be a county commissioner and your way of speaking to the issue is wearing a doggone T-shirt that says “I can’t breathe,” but you’re not going to demand these five badges fervently. To me that’s capping. That means not only holding the sheriff accountable, who needs to resign, but that means holding the D.A. Neal Pinkston accountable too. He’s the one responsible for bringing charges against these officers.”
Back at the mural, Rev. Williams closed out her speech by imploring the protesters to continue to demonstrate.
“Don’t let nobody turn you around. Don’t you let anything or nobody turn you around,” said Rev. Williams. “You are created in the image of God, and because he gave you breath, nobody has the right to take that away from you.”