Hundreds come together for peaceful protest at courthouse


CW / Hannah Saad

Kelby Hutchison | @thetallcwrepor1, Contributing Writer

Hundreds of people gathered in the sweltering heat and humidity at the federal court building in downtown Tuscaloosa on Sunday. With fists raised and masks over mouths, the crowd peacefully protested the death of George Floyd, who died in the custody of the Minneapolis Police Department.

Pastor Hollis Thomas of Rock City Church in Tuscaloosa opened up the protest.

“I thought to myself that ‘This week, a man in America in 2020 was lynched,’” Thomas said.

A few signs carried by protesters reflected Thomas’s thoughts in no uncertain terms, with one protester sporting a sign that read “A knee = A noose.” Slogans and hashtags appeared on some signs, while others were crammed with names of black victims of police brutality.

“I could be on one of these signs, any one of us could be on one of these signs,” said Darryl Holman Jr., a black Tuscaloosa resident who attended the rally. “It’s heartbreaking in so many ways and it makes you scared. I like coming home and not feeling scared. All we want is to live a normal life.”

In the wake of Floyd’s death, which came on the heels of police killing and mishandling the murders of other black citizens, fear permeates the black community. The unspoken threat of police violence leaves many wondering if they will be the next name on a long list of homicides committed by the police.

“It gets to a point you don’t even want to drive, You don’t even want to go out,” said Holman. 

Another protestor, Leland Jay, a young black man originally from Birmingham, said that Floyd’s death didn’t shock him. 

“It’s a reoccurring thing,” Jay said. “It’s something that always happens. So, I wasn’t really shocked.” 

Jay, who said he has become desensitized to black people dying in police custody,  also said the United States has never treated everyone equally.

“The country is what it was always meant to be,” Jay said. “People at the top oppress the people at the bottom and it’s going to continue to be that way until the system is completely rebuilt.”

Pastor Tyshawn Gardner of Plum Grove Baptist Church in Tuscaloosa was one of the speakers who talked to the hundreds of protesters and said he felt anger and frustration when he heard of the death of Floyd. 

Continuing violence against black people can cause the same kind of desensitization that has become overly familiar to Jay, Gardner said.

“One of the resulting effects of the desensitization is the riots that we’re seeing,” Gardner said. “People are really tired of being ignored. Justice has been too long delayed and I think until we have some real systemic changes we will not see anything get better.”

The community needs to be a part of the reform process and have a voice in the way that black people are policed, Gardner said. He added that he believes there must be reform in policing and the criminal justice system, including the institution of community review boards in order for police oversight to improve.

“But more so than anything the weapon that we must all use in this moment is our voice,” Thomas said. He later quoted Martin Luther King Jr. in saying, “In the end we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.”

The last person to speak was Andrea Dobynes, a local poet and graduate of The University of Alabama with a doctorate in philosophy. Dobynes read a poem that spoke to her fears about raising a son.

“Once upon a time I was afraid to raise a black son, but now mommy knows I have to,” Dobynes read. “If I don’t black men in this country will become an endangered species. If I do black men will be an endangered species. Either way the story is the same.”

Dobynes’ poem was met with agreement from some in the crowd. After she concluded with her poem, the crowd formed into lines of people holding signs and marching around the courthouse. 

Chants rang from the crowd during the demonstration, saying “Black Lives Matter” and “He Couldn’t Breathe” while bystanders looked on from Innisfree Irish Pub near the courthouse. 

Some parents brought their small children with them to participate in the event. Black residents thanked white people for helping to stand with them. People lined the streets handing out water bottles to help fight the heat. Police officers redirected traffic and offered water to some.

Sarah Cheshire, the organizer of this event, said she noticed the anger and grief of the community and felt there needed to be a space to express that. She said she doesn’t view herself as an “organizer” but as somebody providing a platform for other people.

“I am privileged to live in a white body, that I don’t have to directly experience… the fear of violence and brutality,” Cheshire said. “I felt like as someone who has privilege based on my skin color, it’s kind of my responsibility to stand on behalf of those who are more vulnerable and to help provide those kinds of platforms for change.”

Though not arm in arm due to the current health crisis, Monday’s protesters joined together to merge their voices and commune in grief and anger. Further protests in Tuscaloosa are planned for Wednesday, Saturday and Sunday.