Hundreds of people gathered near the St. Barnabas Episcopal Church in River Ranch to lend their unified voices at “The March to End White Silence & Police Brutality” on Sunday, June 6.
The event, co-hosted by the Lafayette NAACP president Marja Broussard and Lafayette native Eden Sutley, comes during a wave of protests around the country sparked by the death of George Floyd.
Before the mile march down Camellia, several speakers offered their commentary, visions and aspirations for the future of Lafayette. In her opening remarks, Sutley made note of the importance of not only the location of the march but the importance of white allies speaking out in instances of injustice.
“I think that sends such a message that this part of town needs to also realize that there’s important work that needs to be done to keep this community strong ... It’s important that you keep showing up, keep speaking, and keep using your voice every day,” Sutley said. “When you realize your kids aren’t reading books by black and brown authors, you speak up. When you realize that the state of Louisiana has one of the highest incarceration rates in the world that disproportionately affect black people, you speak up. These actions need to happen every day for people of all different races, creeds, genders and sexualities. You’re all welcome to end racism … our first step in being complete allies is listening.”
The march, like many others, offered a platform for Lafayette citizens to plead for systematic change in this city.
John Wayne Milton, an NAACP leader, lawyer and preacher, encouraged the audience to review two documents: “21st Century Policing,” a report created by a task force lead under the Obama administration in an effort to reform police practices and policies, and the United States district court decision dismissing the case of Tevin Lewis, a black man killed after an altercation with the Lafayette police department.
Milton stressed the necessity of demanding the Lafayette Police Department review these documents.
“If our local Lafayette sheriff’s department does not review this, if our Lafayette city police department does not understand that we must make changes, if our city marshall and our local state trooper’s office does not understand that we must do something different in order for there to be decent and equitable policing in this so-called Acadiana area of Louisiana, then we will fail in our actions and our gathering today will be in vain,” Milton said.
The theme of accountability echoed in the speeches of all the community organizers that stepped up to the mic, for elected officials and ordinary denizens of Lafayette. Marja Broussard led the audience in a community pledge, urging the crowd to repeat:
“Today I stand up against all acts of racism and hate. I am committed to building a better world. I will participate locally, statewide, nationally and peacefully. I pledge today, I will vote in every election. I promise today, I will hold my elected officials accountable. Today I am done sitting on the sidelines. Today is a new day."
Devon Norman, NAACP Youth Committee Chair, specifically singled out Lafayette Mayor-President Josh Guillory. Norman recalled Guillory’s response to a question he submitted to a town hall meeting in which he said that he asked what the Mayor-President’s plan to fight voter suppression was.
“(Josh Guillory) laughed and made a mockery of voter suppression. Josh Guillory does not believe that voter suppression exists for black people in this city. So, I want to talk about that and remind the young black (citizens in Lafayette) that your vote does matter ... I have one clear message of the city of Lafayette ... Lafayette, get your knee off of our neck! Josh Guillory, get your knee off our neck!” Norman said.
The most impactful and what Broussard called “probably the hardest part” of the march came in its culmination: an 8 minute and 46 second long moment of silence, to identify with the amount of time the police officer involved with Floyd’s murder knelt on his neck.
In that solemn moment of reflection, despite the sea of masked faces, one could see the determination and yearning for change in the eyes of the crowd. This is not the first, nor the last, gathering for justice in this city. As Broussard said, today is a new day in Lafayette.