Thousands turn out for week of protests in Tuscaloosa

Jessa Reid Bolling | @jr_bolling, News Editor

Sunday capped off a week of protests across Tuscaloosa that drew thousands of participants seeking police reform and abolition after the deadly arrest of George Floyd in Minneapolis. 

A Wednesday protest was organized by 18-year-old Zyler Wilson in partnership with the Southern Christian Leadership Conference and the NAACP Youth Coalition.

With signs reading “Black Lives Matter,” “I Can’t Breathe” and other slogans, over 1,000 protestors marched from Government Plaza to the Federal Courthouse on University Boulevard.

State Representative Chris England spoke on how Floyd’s death has affected him and how he fears for his and his son’s safety.

“Every night, I go home, I look at my 11-year-old son,” England said. “And when I see the video of Floyd on the ground for nine minutes begging for his life, I don’t see him. I see myself. And I see my son.”

England also called on protestors to vote, saying that if people do not vote for change in November, then those who have died in the struggle against racism and police brutality have died in vain. 

“If I don’t see all of you in November, Mr. Floyd died in vain,” England said. “All of the people who have lost their lives in this struggle have died in vain if I can’t get 20 to 30 minutes out of you in November to change the people who are responsible for the situation we’re in right now. 

“If you can’t vote, you cannot complain. So I will see you in front of a computer when you fill out the census and I damn well better see you in November to get rid of this president.”

SCLC National President Charles Steele Jr. spoke to the crowd, calling racism a virus. 

“We have been too afraid on all sides to talk about the fact that racism is a virus,” Steele said. “There is COVID-19. But, with racism, you have COVID-400. Four hundred years of slavery and of second-class citizens.”

Steele also encouraged the crowd to stay “fired up” in the fight against systemic racism and to never become silent on issues that matter. 

“Silence in the face of evil is evil,” Steele said. “You got to demand freedom for all of God’s children, black, white, green or blue.”

Saturday’s protest took place in Snow Hinton Park and drew over 200 participants. 

The crowd walked around the park’s trail eight times to represent the number of minutes Floyd was pinned to the ground with Minneapolis Police Officer Derek Chauvin’s knee on his neck. 

Sunday’s protest drew a crowd of over 1,000 participants who gathered in Government Plaza.

Tuscaloosa Mayor Walt Maddox spoke at the protest, saying that he has learned that he will never understand the pain of experiencing racism, but he can listen to those who have experienced it to help in the fight to end oppression. 

“To all those who embrace racism and hatred, Tuscaloosa is showing you what the image of God looks like here,” Maddox said. “My faith, my God teaches me that in times of crisis, we must listen. And over the last couple of weeks I have been listening. I have been listening because I realized that the things I thought I was doing were working and I have learned that I have not done enough. It is time for me to do more. It is time for the whole government to do more.”

Protest participant Ebony Rice addressed the crowd, saying the protests across the country are just the beginning of addressing police brutality and that young people cannot afford to sit out any upcoming elections if they want to see real change. 

“No race is superior to the other,” Rice said. “We are all one. We are all part of the human race. We were all created equal. So it’s about time we started acting like it.”