Thousands of concerned Lafayette citizens gathered at the corner of University Avenue and Johnston Street to peacefully protest police brutality on Sunday at 11:00 a.m.
The protest is one of many occurring across the nation since Monday when George Floyd, a 46-year-old African American man in Minneapolis, died after Derek Chauvin, a white police officer, pinned an already-handcuffed Floyd to the pavement by pressing his knee to Floyd’s neck for over eight minutes, according to the Washington Post.
Several community organizations were responsible for putting the protest together including UL Lafayette’s Student Action and Organizing Committee, Sunder Press, Lafayette’s Tenant’s Coalition, the Lafayette branch of the NAACP and Move the Mindset.
The protest started with a rally outside Girard Hall where Sunder Press Editor-in-Chief Charles Garrett, SAOC Co-founder Mark Mallory, Spoken Word Poet Alex “PoeticSoul” Johnson, NAACP Lafayette President Marja Broussard, Move the Mindset Representative Jaqueline Cochran and Cycle Breakers Coalition Leader Cory “The Chosen One” Levier spoke about police brutality and the importance of public demonstrations.
Johnson read an original poem about police brutality and criticized Chauvin for his clear disregard for Floyd’s well-being.
“Someone is screaming, ‘I cannot breathe,’ and you do not consider their lives to be valuable enough for you to stand up and lift them up,” Johnson said. “You are not afraid of anyone here. You are not afraid. Your life is not in danger. People are in danger when you pull your guns out.”
Levier gave an empowered speech about what makes someone a police officer instead of just a criminal with a badge and gun.
“We are fighting people who are criminals, and they’re hiding in uniforms,” he said. “A police officer is a man, or woman, that has dedicated their lives to serving and protecting the people. These are not police officers. We do them a grave injustice when we call these criminals police officers.”
The protest then moved to both sides of the sidewalk along University Avenue and Johnston Street where it remained before protestors marched to the Lafayette Police Department on University Avenue, all the while chanting phrases like, “No justice, no peace,” “Say his name,” and “Hands up, don’t shoot.”
Garrett said he was thrilled the demonstration was so massive but still peaceful.
“This is just amazing,” he said. “It’s much better than I could have ever hoped for.”
Mayor-President Josh Guillory and Louisiana House of Representatives candidate Rob Anderson also attended the protest.
Guillory said he believes the Lafayette Police Department can prevent police brutality through sensitivity training and making an effort to help officers better understand their community.
“Basically know the pulse of your community that you’re blessed to serve,” he said.
Mallory said he was moved by how many people attended.
“I’m really inspired by the turnout,” Mallory said. “I think this is probably the biggest protest in years in Lafayette, and it’s for something that doesn’t just affect this community but affects black communities across the United States and across the globe. I’m really honored to be a part of the series of uprisings that are taking place across cities in America demanding justice and not taking no for an answer.”
Johnson said she hoped to see even more attendees.
“I am satisfied partially with the turnout,” Johnson said. “My preference would be to have every, every area in this land covered with people standing up for peace and unity and solidarity. So I would like to have everyone out of their homes with the same mission, the same purpose, but I'm satisfied with the turnout.”
Levier said it was important citizens recognize that the public demonstrations can’t stop here.
“We have to do much more of this, and we have to actually change the laws that allow these things to happen in our country,” he said.
Evalyn Landry, an African American senior in Informatics at UL Lafayette, said she was protesting in hopes that one day she will feel safe doing things white people do every day, like calling for help if her car breaks down.
“We’re tired,” Landry said. “We just want to live life like normal people.”
Alicia Griffin, a UL Lafayette graduate, said she was impressed by how racially diverse the protestors were.
“It’s good to see all different skin hues represented for a common cause,” she said. “In the past few days in the media, I’ve seen a lot of division, but today it was refreshing to see some unity for a common purpose.”
Matthew Humphrey, the president of PFLAG Lafayette, said one of the reasons he attended the protest was that it’s important for him and other white citizens to speak up against racial injustice.
“We can't possibly understand what people of color go through,” he said. “And we can't take this cause and say, ‘Yeah this is our thing we're going to handle this,’ because this is their struggle. But this is our problem. This is a white people problem. Silence is not neutrality. Silence is choosing the side of the oppressor. And I feel like white supremacists aren't listening to people of color. White supremacists are only going to start checking themselves when more white people stand up to them.”
At 12:39 p.m., UL Lafayette President Joseph Savoie sent an email to UL Lafayette students and faculty praising the SAOC for demonstrating peacefully.
“Moreover, they showed that the path to binding our nation’s wounds – no matter how deep, how historic and how painful – can be illuminated through conversation rather than violence,” Savoie said in the email.
The SAOC said in a Facebook post, that Savoie’s email misrepresented their message and antagonized other demonstrators.
“We appreciate Dr. Savoie's kind words, but we take issue with his mischaracterization of our message in order to demonize other protesters,” the SAOC said in the Facebook post. “We live in a society of inherent racial violence and to use our resistance to demonize freedom fighters is the work of white supremacy and white power. We will not allow words to be put into our mouths that disempower the movement for justice and Black Lives.”