Over the weekend, people gathered in several communities across the nation to protest the police killings of African-Americans. Most recently were the deaths of Alton Sterling in Baton Rouge, Louisiana and Philando Castile St. Paul, Minnesota at the hands of police.
In Galesburg, a Black Lives Matters group led an awareness march down the sidewalk of Henderson St. The event drew a couple hundred people from all walks of life and different skin colors.
Before the march, organizers stressed that the protest was to be peaceful and they asked participants to ignore the opposition and any confrontation they were sure would come.
But, during the walk, the group was met only with encouragement from the community. Demonstrators chanted phrases such as, “peace, love unity” and “we want justice, we want peace.” All the while, motorists frequently slowed down, honked their car horns and waved.
At Dairy Queen, which served as the half way point for the walk, employees offered the demonstrators glasses of ice water to help relieve them of the summer heat.
Anthony Law, Coordinator for Minority Outreach at Carl Sandburg College, was pleasantly surprised by the community’s warm embrace. Law describes Galesburg as a diverse community that has a good relationship with its police force.
“We’re not on an island. We’re Galesburg, Illinois of the United States of America. Right now in this country, there are some issues,” Law said. “So, I mean, we would be foolish to sit back and say not here because every community that there has been an incident, the day before said not here, and then it happened.”
Law helped his students organize the more than 2 mile march down the sidewalk of Henderson St. from Dunham Sports to Dairy Queen and then back.
“We thought about whether it was too long and if people would get tired. You know, what we need to be tired of is discrimination. So this is an analogy for that. For being tired of the things that we see, the inequalities, the discrimination that we see. So yes, it is kind of a physical metaphor. But yes, we wanted to have some sweat going down our brows,” Law said.
Law is also an advisor to the Men of Distinction fraternity and Women of Character sorority at Carl Sandburg College. He said the organizations serve as retention and success programs for minority students. Many of the demonstrators were college students and members of MoD and WoC. Law said he’s been encouraging his students to put action behind their activism.
Timeisha Watts graduated from Carl Sandburg College. Watts said she feels the civil rights movement got cut short, and it needs to be finished. She said the march was a good first step.
“I feel like using our voices, and not backing down and demanding, we are not asking any more, demanding justice, demanding peace, demanding equality is what we need to be doing,” Watt said.
Watts said she finds it unfair that her black teen brother is 21 times more likely to be shot than a white teenager his age.
“All I want is for me to not have worry about him every single day I leave. Will this be the day that he is playing with a friend’s BB-gun or something and a cop pulls up and in less than a minute analyzes the situation and shoots him? Will this be the day when my brother will be outside, doing what kids do, what all kids do and a cop gets fed up and he gets shot? Enough is enough,” Watts said.
Watt said she doesn’t want to have to worry about her family every day and whether they’ll be killed in a routine traffic stop.
Many of the demonstrators who participated in the Black Lives Matter awareness march said they felt it was an historic event for Galesburg.
Macomb Rally Smaller
The Black Lives Matter rally in Macomb drew about 40 people Saturday evening. The demonstrators met at Chandler Park, marched around the nearly deserted courthouse square, and returned to the park where they staged a one minute “Die-In” in honor of those who’ve lost their lives.
“How many people have to lose their lives? How many people have to suffer injustices until we end our silence?” asked Tiffany Geer, who helped organize the demonstration.
Geer said she has no problem with police officers who do their job and uphold their sworn duty to protect the public. But Geer said she does have an issue with officers who think they’re above the law and face no repercussions.
She also said the problem cannot be solved with violence. She urged demonstrators to contact politicians and tell them, “We deserve to have justice and peace in our streets.”
Shay Burris also told the crowd to stand up, speak out, and work for change. She said Americans need to do more than share comments on social media.
“My sons are not a hashtag. They're young, black, and gifted,” Burris said.
“And it's not about all lives mattering because all lives do matter. But it's the black lives that seem to be targeted. It's the brown lives. It's the Hispanics and the blacks and the Asians.”
Co-organizer Sam Waldo said Macomb has not experienced police shootings. But he said it’s still important to raise awareness. He said several hundred people in America have died in encounters with police so far this year. He believes police are too quick to reach for their weapons instead of trying to resolve situations without using force.