A Nation in Protest
Protesters gathered at the steps of the Suwannee County Courthouse recently to denounce racism and violence. -Photo by Demetrius Armstead
By Jeffry Boatright
Branford High School Principal Terry Huddleston begins each school day by telling his students, “Treat others the way you want to be treated and you’ll have a great day.” There is a lot of validity in Huddleston’s advice. Unfortunately, some folks still have not gotten the memo.
In a pandemic-weary America, emotions raged following the horrific image of George Floyd’s May 27 death in Minneapolis, MN. As the world now knows, Floyd was taken into custody by four responding police officers. During the apprehension, former Minneapolis Police Officer Derek Chauvin spent several minutes kneeling on Floyd’s neck and at some point, Floyd succumbed to death.
Courtroom arguments are certain to ensue during the coming weeks and months. The prosecution will assert that Floyd’s death was a result of Chauvin’s knee while the defense will argue that Floyd died of other causes. The prosecution will paint a picture of a loving father who was a victim of police brutality while the defense will portray Floyd as a suspect who resisted arrest. In the end, nobody will win.
As we all know, a video of Chauvin with his knee positioned on Floyd’s neck while other police officers looked on went viral. The following day, protests had begun. Those protests quickly spread nationwide.
Demonstrators assembled across Florida with hundreds gathering in Jacksonville, Tallahassee, Miami and other cities. Sadly, an officer was stabbed in Jacksonville and chaos ensued in Tallahassee when a vehicle was driven into a crowd of protesters.
About 45-50 people gathered locally for a unity rally in Live Oak. While demonstrators protested against racism and violence, the theme was peace and prayer, event organizer Darias Bowers stated.
Bowers, who is in his second year of seminary, said that people of all races and ethnicities were represented. “We’re praying for peace in the community and the country,” he added, “and the basis was knowing what is going on and we stand in solidarity.”
According to Bowers, the activists wanted to be proactive and not reactive. “We wanted to come together and believe that God is in control.” He added that emphasis was placed on doing unto others as you would have them to do unto you.
When asked what he hopes to achieve, he simply replied, to see African Americans or black people treated fairly. “We are not looking for a handout. We just want the opportunity to show that we are successful, educated and just as much a part of the country as everyone else. We want the same rights and fair share as anyone else.”
Bowers recognizes the importance of sharing knowledge of the past and the present. Invoking a Winston Churchill quote, he said, “Those that fail to learn from history are doomed to repeat it.” Bowers, who has been ordained as a minister, stressed the importance of understanding and informing others about history.
While acknowledging the success of protests and rallies, the young minister conceded the most beneficial way to achieve the goal is through having conversations with family members in the homes and discussing why racism is wrong.
“A lot of times we experience things that shape who we are,” Bowers explained. “Too often, families do not have those conversations.” He added, “We must ask ourselves the difficult questions. What has been my thought pattern? How can I change it to be a better citizen?”
Quoting from the fourth chapter of John, Bowers asked, “For he that loveth not his brother whom he hath seen, how can he love God whom he hath not seen?”
Acknowledging that Christians are called upon to be the salt of the earth and the light of the world, Bowers emphasized that prayer is one of the most powerful weapons that we have.
“When we are unable to figure out what is the best way, I believe that seeking God in prayer is the best way,” he said.
“We, as a people, have protested peacefully for years,” Bowers elaborated. “Our whole movement has been a peaceful movement, but we continuously have seen Black lives snatched by the hands of racism. It took a man losing his life on camera, protests and riots, to move towards justice for just one black life, not to mention countless others that have yet to receive justice.”
While the May 31 rally in Live Oak relayed a message of unity and peace, several of the protests across the country had already taken an ugly turn by May 27. Authorities recognized that individuals had arrived from other areas, turning otherwise peaceful marches and protests into chaos.
Unfortunately, the chaos was carried out under the guise of our Constitution’s First Amendment. Most of us know, however, that is preposterous. The language in the First Amendment states that Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.
The First Amendment does not, however, legitimize looting, rioting and violence. According to Merriam-Webster, the term peaceable means not contentious or quarrelsome, quietly behaved or free from strife or disorder.
Still, we must not paint with too broad of a brush, so to speak. People are angry, and that is understandable. People are speaking out, and voices must be heard. However, we are a country of laws and we must obey the laws or any fight that we fight will be fought in vain.
Yes, there are bad cops, but most are good. There are racists, but most people are not. There are criminals and looters, but most people abide by the law. While some protesters chose destruction, most did not.
The First Amendment is not without limits, but when exercised within the law, the results can be limitless. If we read the last line of the First Amendment again, we might recognize our Founders were being more specific than we realized. Is it possible that the ideal place to peaceably assemble and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances or to rectify our complaints might be in the halls of Congress or the chambers of our local legislative bodies? Perhaps our voices are more effective before those who we elect to make laws and govern.
While the intensity of protests remains, the violence has subsided over the past week. However, there appears to be a growing sentiment among activists and some elected officials to defund and dismantle police departments.
Maybe dismantling police departments isn’t such a bad idea after all, and this is how we can do it. We will sock it to the police by taking away their reason to exist. As a nation, we will refuse to break any laws or commit any crimes in the future.
We will deprive law enforcement of suspects. Together, we can do this. Arrests will plummet and law enforcement agencies will be forced to reduce the size of their forces. There will no longer be a need to replace officers who retire or leave their respective departments to find more exciting jobs. Instead, funding will be reduced and reduced. Eventually, the law enforcement officer will fade away like the telegraph operator.
Of course, we know that plan is impossible. It is outrageous to even consider such an idea. To accomplish such a goal would require that every citizen heed the shared idea of Terry Huddleston and Darias Bowers. That idea is something called the Golden Rule, “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”
The Unity Rally, which was held in Live Oak recently, was attended by approximately 45-50 individuals, organizers say.
-Photo by Demetrius Armstead
People of varied races and ethnicities participated in Live Oak’s May 31 Unity Rally.
-Photo by Demetrius Armstead
Darias Bowers (center) organized the recent Unity Rally in Live Oak as a sign of solidarity and message of peace and prayer -Photo by Demetrius Armstead