Several hundred people gathered outside Athens City Hall on a sweltering Sunday afternoon for a Black Lives Matter rally in the wake of two more African American deaths at the hands of police and the revenge shootings of a dozen police officers in Dallas.
Speakers urged respect, both for African Americans and for police.
“All the people who want the violence and killing to stop, we need to come together, because we don’t want this to happen in our community,” said Mokah Jasmine Johnson, a teacher and hip hop promoter who organized the rally, as well as one against discrimination at downtown businesses in January.
“We don’t want police officers killed out of vengeance,” said Johnson (pictured below). “We don’t want young black men shot down.”
A thousands-strong march in Atlanta was almost entirely peaceful, but hundreds of protesters were arrested in Baton Rouge, LA and St. Paul, MN, where police were caught on video killing Alton Sterling and Philando Castile.
A handful of police officers, including Athens-Clarke County Deputy Chief Justin Gregory, watched the rally from afar. They weren’t armed with riot gear, as police in other cities have been, and no one was arrested.
“It’s all about the Constitution, their First Amendment rights,” Gregory said. “I’m just here to make sure they have what they need.”
ACCPD officers are “carrying a heavy burden right now,” Gregory said. Some citizens have made negative comments toward them, but most have been supportive, he said, and he asked that the community continue supporting the department.
Local police drew praise from Johnson and Ishues, a popular Athens rapper (pictured above). Johnson thanked the department for cooperating with her while she put together the rally.
Ishues recounted the story of Edward Wright, a 20-year-old who was shot and killed by police in the Nellie B neighborhood in 1995.
“Me and my friends organized a rally,” Ishues said. “Twenty years later, we’re marching about the same thing."
But Ishues also said Athens has “the coolest cops” he’s encountered while touring the world, noting that Chief Scott Freeman attended an event organized by Chess and Community, an organization that helps underprivileged youth.
“We need to sit and talk honestly with each other,” he said. “I honestly believe Athens, Georgia can be a model for the rest of the country.”
Johnson urged protesters to attend a meeting at 5:30 p.m. Tuesday at the Athens-Clarke County Library for further discussion.
Johnson and Clarke County NAACP President Alvin Sheats also had some advice for black men when dealing with police. “Respect the officer,” Sheats said. “Respect the law.” Be polite and have your ID out if you're pulled over, he said.
“I have a son who’s 19 years old, and every day I live in fear when he walks out that door,” Johnson said. She urged African Americans to “get your hands up” if confronted by police. “Don’t be a tough guy,” she said.
The solution, Johnson said, is threefold: People from different backgrounds need to congregate and talk to each other, treat each with love and respect—and vote.
“The people in authority, the only reason they have authority is we give them that authority,” said hip hop artist Versatyle the Wildchyld (pictured above).
There’s an economic component, too. Broderick Flanigan, an African American painter, circulated through the crowd distributing flyers urging people to boycott Walmart and fast-food restaurants and support black-owned and locally owned businesses.
“We need to stop spending money at places that don’t give a damn about us,” Ishues said.