MURPHY, N.C. – A large, peaceful crowd turned out in downtown Murphy to support the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement on June 4.
Approximately 450 or more BLM supporters brandished homemade signs while marching from the train depot to the courthouse. The three young adult organizers created the event on Monday, June 1 with the intention of holding a small gathering with their friends. However, after launching the Murphy BLM Peaceful Protest group, it grew from 10 to 200 people overnight. At the time of the event, the group had 677 members. No one expected such a big crowd, and several protesters expressed the hope they felt at the sight.
“I think it says there are a lot more people out there then you know. Like that support what you’re trying to convey and spread the word. I think it just says a lot about what we don’t know is out there,” organizer Jake Reed told FYN on the protest’s success.
Reed and his fellow organizers TeLor Allen and Emily Mills all stressed their desire for a peaceful protest leading up to the event. They wanted it to be a safe space for the people from Cherokee County to show solidarity with the BLM movement.
“I am not a rioter. I am not a looter. I am not a thug. I am not a stereotype. I am a student. I go to the University of Tennessee. I am a daughter. I matter. My name is TeLor Allen,” declared Allen. “Thank you for using your voices for a cause that is so much beyond us that we can’t even imagine.”
The event appeared to serve as an outlet for those who wanted to support BLM and share their grief as well as desire for change.
“[I experienced] a lot of recently feeling helpless, but then hearing oh there’s a protest actually going on here in Murphy, which I was shocked to find out considering how small it is. But I’m so glad that it happened and glad that I am here,” said one protester who goes by Ryvers.
FYN spoke with participants about small towns and the likelihood of protests in support of BLM. Certain individuals discussed that residents in rural communities are “at peace” with how things operate and don’t see a need for change. No one wants to “rock the boat” or take a gamble on controversial topics.
Diversity also plays a part in how communities see BLM protests. One protester talked about moving from Athens, Ga to Murphy, NC, and how one of their classmates told them that they never saw a person of color before.
Another BLM supporter brought up community diversity and the role it plays:
“We grew up in Florida where there was diversity and there was color and to move to a small town and to see how closed it was. This was very important to us for our voices to be heard. Not only for Black Lives Matters, but also for the injustice that the police, there are so many occasions of them getting away with so much stuff,” said Kathryne, “The fact that the police officers were on the side that really meant a lot to everybody.”
“We all wanted it to be peaceful and glad that it’s reaching such small communities too,” responded Lynsey. “This is a matter that affects all of us.”
When asked why now and why they felt the need to demonstrate, they responded:
“I’m sick and tired of seeing everything happen on the news. I’m tired of watching our black Americans go through everything that they are. I want things to be better for them. They should feel safe and have the same privileges that we do and not feel oppressed or as though, they can’t attain, the same things that we do,” expressed Sierra Butler.
“I’m tired of just standing by and knowing that I have white privilege, but not being able to do anything about it,” added Brenda Hammond. “I know that there are people who have it so much worse than we do simply because they’re darker than us and that’s not right. It makes me hurt so much to see so many people in pain.”
Hammond also addressed how her family has a lot of mixed opinions on the issue, but they are having conversations about race in America to try and understand.
While marching, they continued to chant “No Justice No Peace,” “George Floyd,” “Black Lives Matter,” “This is America,” and “I can’t breathe.” Once reaching their destination, several protesters laid down in the street with their hands behind their back and chanted “I can’t breathe.”
Everyone fell silent for 8 minutes and 46 seconds to recognize the length of time former Minneapolis Police Officer Derek Chauvin held his knee to George Floyd’s neck.
Cherokee County Sheriff Derrick Palmer spoke, at times in tears, over the injustices African American’s face and the acts of police brutality. He condemned the actions of the Minneapolis Police Department (MPD) and any officer who didn’t see the wickedness in the four former MPD members.
“It’s a long time past that law enforcement and community leaders need to stop, and no longer continue to be silent but speak out when we see injustice occurring,” Palmer stated. “No longer can community members and leaders turn our backs, turn our faces, and pretend these things don’t happen. We don’t only need to speak out for a change, but we need to make changes in our community both Republican and Democrat.”
The sheriff also stressed the need for the community and the nation to love each other citing the Bible and Martin Luther King Jr. Palmer and his staff have started discussions on how to end systemic racism in law enforcement and help their citizens. He added that this discussion only took place because of protesters raising their voices against unjust systems.
Police reform is at the heart of the issue, FYN asked Reed what next steps people could take after the protests:
“I think the next big step for police systems, police departments, and people in power that can really change is realizing that we need change. I think that us being here even in this tiny town is really impactful.”
Some individuals who disagreed with the protest lined the outskirts of the protest. One even shouted out “all lives matter.” He was quickly shouted down by others in the crowd, who echoed “not until black lives matter.” Others shouted that the disruptor “didn’t have a clue.”
FYN chatted with protesters, Kathyrne, Lynsey, and Talon who encountered him before the event started.
“He looked at us and said are you serious, and I just said yes sir, we are, and thank you, have a nice day,” explained Lynsey. “If you’re here for the wrong reason, go home.”
Once the peaceful assembly ended, the organizers and police handed out water to those in attendance and cleaned the streets of any trash.
To see all photos from the event, click here.
JASPER, Ga. – Protesting continues across many North Georgia counties as demonstrators rally in the wake of media reports on the death of George Floyd and other protests.
Tonight saw another of these rallies in the city of Jasper, Georgia, as police blocked off parking spaces and sections of side streets around the Pickens County Courthouse downtown. While some showed early and stood on the sidewalk with signs, it appeared like it would be a small turnout even after 4:00 p.m. passed.
However, less than twenty minutes later, a large group marched onto the lawn of the courthouse from the east, on Court Street. The march rallied into those already present swelling the numbers over a hundred strong.
Chants rang out of “Black Lives Matter,” “I Can’t Breathe,” and “No Justice No Peace” repeatedly as demonstrators held signs and cheered on as supporters would drive by honking.
Calling attention to a central point, protesters took a knee as they said it was to respect those present and to fight the “injustice” they were opposing. One of the first to speak, Jeff Samuel said, “What matters today is those of us standing here for equal rights and justice for all.”
Samuel said he was proud of Jasper and of those present at the protest standing for their beliefs.
Samuel led the push for more people to speak saying that all voices need to be heard. One by one, protesters stepped forward, taking the megaphone to speak to those gathered. Some spoke to counterprotesters as well.
Most of those speaking spoke specifically about the Black Lives Matter movement, George Floyd, and racism in America. Others spoke about race in general and the importance of equality in the nation. Some spoke thanks to officers present that were protecting them and their right to gather and speak. Nearly an hour and a half continued with speakers stepping forward.
Eventually, the protest heard from the three organizers of the event, Mack Thomas, Kat Phillips, and Maxie Woodall.
Offerings thanks for those attending, Thomas said it was everyone’s support that helped make the day what it was. He pointed out Kat Phillips saying that she was the one who went to Sherrif Craig to make sure the protest was safe.
Woodall spoke saying that she expected a handful of people to show up and to have a small group of mostly teenagers present for the protest, but never could have expected the number and variety of people saying it was “awesome.” She spoke about the names of victims, the names of black people who have died from police brutality.
Phillips offered one statement saying, “We are going to make a change.”
Some protesters split into a separate group playing music and dancing on Depot Street and offering more chants for the rally, moving to another end of the courthouse lawn.
Counter-protesters also came to the event, chanting and waving American Flags, Trump Flags, and one man playing the bugle in opposition to those speaking. However, the few that remained after the rally declined to speak directly on camera to address the counter-protests and their message.
Speaking after the rally, organizers Mack Thomas, Kat Phillips, and Maxie Woodall offered a few extra words to FYN about organizing the event and their interactions with police leading up to it.
Phillips said her experience with organizing with the police was a positive one saying, “They were so nice about it and the way he organized everything as our right was really nice. Craig actually did a wonderful job helping me with this.”
A sentiment echoed by Sheriff Donnie Craig who said he was pleased with the crowd and the way things unfolded at the event. Addressing online comments about needing permission, Craig said that the county and the city do not have a permit process, but that the opportunity to touch base with protesters about the event and their desires allowed him to better coordinate and work with demonstrators and their rally.
When asked about protesters thanking local law enforcement during the rally, Craig said, “That was a strong message to our local law enforcement.”
Handing out fliers and continuing along, the final moments of the protest were spent dancing with music played from one protester’s truck before dispersing peacefully for the night.
However, organizers said this would not be the end. Thomas said that the next step is continued talks with Craig and with officers, “We can’t do anything about racism unless something happens with the law.”
Thomas said that speaking to those with hiring abilities in these departments will express the people’s desires in their police force.
All three agreed that more protests could come until they are heard and a change comes.
ELLIJAY, Ga. – Both protesters and police commented tonight with two words that many have not heard recently in news, a “peaceful protest” in Ellijay concluded despite rain and counter-protests in the area.
Authorities prepared after permits were approved yesterday, June 3, for a planned protest expecting 25 to 30 people in attendance. Even Eloisa Rafael, one of three students who were the organizers of the event along with Pedro Chavez and Nashely Hernandez, said that they were expecting around 25 people when they were planning and speaking with friends.
Instead, what the three students saw, were preliminary estimates closer to 200 people gathered in and around the roundabout in Downtown Ellijay with signs, speeches, and chants for support of the Black Lives Matter movements and for prominent names in both media and movements around the country.
All three of the organizers voiced their surprise and excitement at the larger turnout saying that they felt very encouraged by the level of community support in that way.
As protestors began the rally at 4:00 p.m., organizers called for peace and non-violence as they voiced opinions and chants, one man even stood to call for dialogue with police as he said that without dialogue, there can be no change. One of their first speakers, Pastor Robert Diaz, spoke a prayer over the gathering before offering words of encouragement for equality and rights saying, “We are going to make every effort, every day, to let our kids know, and our society know, that love shall prevail over hate, over discrimination, and whatever else.”
Diaz later said in an interview after the event that he was there to support the Black Lives Matter movement saying, “Obviously, all lives do matter, but in this instance, it is actually the black community that is actually more oppressed. We can see that all over, for decades… We are here as a nation, united, to raise our voice and to let the world know that this has to stop.”
Protesters continued under police supervision throughout their two-hour-long rally with speakers and representatives from the community including ministers and students who called for attention to social issues including the death of George Floyd and other media reports of police violence.
Protest organizer Nashely Hernandez said, “I helped organize this today because people need to stop being judge just because of the color of their skin.”
Others echoed the sentiment saying that the message of love and cooperation was central to what they wanted to convey. Local minister, Reverand Adam Bradley, of the Cherry Log Christian Church said, “Be Love” as he spoke to those gathered and offered his message of loving each other in the community.
After allowing certain community members to step forward to speak as well as prepared speakers, chants rang out through the downtown area as they continued their demonstration. Before long, a second group had formed on North Main Street counter-protesting the demonstration. Police stepped in to keep the groups separate, and while chants and rhetoric came from both sides, police and authorities maintained order in the separation of the groups throughout the rally’s length.
Police involvement stretched beyond one entity, however. The Ellijay Police Department lead permitting and planning for the event. However, authorities present at the event shared information that support and deputies came from all around the area as representatives of the Gilmer Sheriff’s Office and Fannin Sheriff’s Office along with other law enforcement officers from Whitfield and Cherokee Counties.
Protest organizer Pedro Chavez said, “We have had a good interaction with the police. We’ve had good communication. They understand what we’re here to do. They understand that we are here to protest peacefully… We appreciate their assistance, but we are here to protest against police brutality, against discrimination, against racism. But overall, we have had a good interaction with the police department.”
On the police side of the event, Ellijay Police Chief Edward Lacey said, “We couldn’t hope for a better event.”
He added that situations like today are always tense because of the unknown. But said, “The organizers were upfront with us and worked with us. That showed that they had a legitimate exercise of their first amendment rights.” As he addressed in an interview, one of the key points of the event was that the group pf protesters peacefully gathered and shared their message and peacefully left.
Those protesters pushed on despite counter-protests and even a bout of heavy rainfall, soaking many of those present as the stood in the center of the roundabout with only trees for cover. One protester repeatedly offered prayers throughout the event and continued his offerings through the same rainfall. He said he was protesting and stayed because “I think we all need to come together as a community, the police and the people, and put away the hate with love and prayer. Support Back the Blue and Black Lives Matter.”
Many others also offered support for both movements, including Karen Brown, who said, “There is no justice untill ALL God’s people are equal.”
Brown, a former teacher, referenced the “8 minutes 46 seconds,” a common reference to the death of George Floyd, as she too said that all lives do matter, but “right now the issue is black lives.”
As the rally concluded and protesters dispersed, many offered statements saying this is only the beginning and promises to each other that they would see them again soon. Eloisa Rafael also said she expects more, “I expect for this not to be the end of it. I expect for Ellijay to keep growing, keep changing, and understand that we are all equal.”