Editor’s Note: Christian County Magistrate Magaline Ferguson is the mother of New Era Editor Zirconia Alleyne.
The deaths of George Floyd in Minneapolis, Breonna Taylor in Louisville and Ahmaud Arbery in Glynn County, Georgia, at the hands of police brutality and racism have galvanized people in Hopkinsville and across the country to let their voices be heard.
Protesters gathered Sunday afternoon on the lawn of the Christian County Justice Center for the “I Can’t Breathe Rally in memory of George Floyd.”
Among the multitude of handwritten signs and screen-printed T-shirts, the crowd of black and white residents chanted “No justice, no peace, no racist police” and “Black lives matter.”
Rally organizer Amy Cox said, “I’m angry, you’re angry. Let’s figure out how to come together and stop this. This is going to stop and we can do it, but we’ve got to stay together.”
Cox opened the floor for a series of people to speak from their hearts about their experiences with racist police and how things must change.
“Some of you black mothers out here are tired of not being able to sleep because you don’t know if they’re going to come home,” said the Rev. Cortez R. Miller. “Black men, we’re tired of leaving the house wondering if we’re ever going to see our kids again. ... We know that on today maybe no one got killed in Hopkinsville, Kentucky, but the truth be told, we know there is some messed up stuff happening.”
Protests — some peaceful, others violent — have occurred all across the nation, from Minneapolis where Floyd was killed when a police officer dug his knee into his neck until he died and in Louisville where Taylor was shot and killed by police while sleeping in her home.
Fired Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin has been charged with third-degree murder and manslaughter, according to national outlets.
“Jacob Frey, the mayor of Minneapolis, used his white privilege and his position as an elected official to demand justice,” Cox said. “He put pressure on other officials and higher to get the ball of justice rolling.”
Louisville officers who killed Taylor have yet to be charged.
Cox said silence is complicity, and if officials won’t speak up, vote them out.
District 1 Magistrate Magaline Ferguson said its imperative for citizens to hold officials accountable on all levels.
“We’re not getting ready to walk in fear,” Ferguson said. “We’re going to do what we’re supposed to do to make a difference here in Christian County. We’re here to make a difference, not just make a noise.”
Ferguson brought forth a mother who has raised three sons in Hopkinsville to speak about how she has leaned on the village mentality to help protect her boys.
Tishauna Douglas pointed to her oldest son who recently had an encounter with a racist neighbor.
“My son lives on Walnut Street, and about two weeks ago, he had a neighbor who I guess feels proud about being racist,” she said. “He told my son he was gon’ string him up and lynch him, hang him on one of these trees. ... Being a mother, a few years ago, I would have handled things differently, but I know to handle things lawfully. I contacted city council, HPD and I called on the village.
“Me and the village have been going over there, and the village in that community have all been watching over my son,” she continued. “I want us all to come together as a village, as a community, as a city, and figure out what happened — what made this switch come about where the black man got this target on his back?”
The Rev. Perry Greenwade said the target was put there years and years ago.
“This anger that you see in New York and all over the country did not just start from Mr. Floyd being murdered,” Greenwade said. “This anger and frustration did not just start from Breonna Taylor in Louisville being murdered ... or from Ahmaud Arbery who was tracked down and hunted and murdered ... or Trayvon Martin.
“We’re frustrated and our frustration goes back about 400 years,” he said.
Greenwade spoke against the president classifying protesters as “thugs.”
“We were taught well when you thugs were burning down churches in the ‘50s and in the ‘60s and our children were in those churches,” Greenwade said. “They taught us how to be thugs when our great-great-grandparents were hanging out of trees.”
Greenwade also spoke against the destruction of property while protesting, which has happened in other cities during demonstrations.
“That (anger) don’t mean you’ve got to burn up your stores that you gotta shop at or bomb your bank that you’ve got to go get a loan from,” he said. “That just means that we have to make sure they know that we are not second-class citizens.”
Several other speakers shared their concern with the grey area of accountability of police in the justice system.
“Who is policing the police,” said Kortez Ivory, who works for Christian County Public Schools. Despite his position, Ivory said as a black man, he still gets nervous around police.
Marvin Barnes, a veteran who served in Iraq, shared how even when in his uniform he has been racially profiled and unlawfully stopped by police.
“You can about imagine how that made me feel,” he said. “I just got through fighting for him to have the right to disrespect me and the uniform.”
Barnes said as a young black boy, he was raised to go to police for help, but when he became a man, everything changed.
“The same people I was being told to go to are the same people killing us in the streets,” he said.
Donovan Pinner shared how he hasn’t rested since he heard about the death of Taylor, who was shot eight times by police who had the wrong suspect for a no-knock warrant.
“Last week, I laid on my couch and tried to take a nap and couldn’t — I just stared at the door and wondered if somebody was going to kick in my door and shoot me sleeping,” Pinner said. “We do not have to live like this. We have to challenge this system and use the same system that brought us here today to get us to somewhere else.
“We have to understand privilege (and) bias and how each and every one of us plays into this system that keeps us marching, protesting time and time again to raise somebody’s name in the air because they can’t breathe, they can’t sleep, they can’t walk, they can’t do anything — it is time for a change in America, but what are you gonna do about it?”
Councilman Darvin Adams chanted “awareness, unity and pro-activity,” before bringing forward Hopkinsville Police Chief Clayton Sumner and Christian County Sheriff Tyler DeArmond, who attended the rally in plain clothes.
Sumner said he hadn’t prepared a speech but thanked the crowd for allowing him to speak from the heart.
“I don’t understand what it means to be a black man and I never will, but I can listen and I can be empathetic and I can learn,” he said.
Sumner said people have been calling him saying they don’t understand what’s going on and why destruction has erupted in other cities.
“The violence is just the outward emotion of the systematic failure in the criminal justice system,” he said, as the crowd clapped and cheered. “I can say that as the head law enforcement entity in the city of Hopkinsville — there are failures in the criminal justice system.
“Does race play into that? Damn right it does, and I have seen it,” the chief said. “But, understand this, just like I teach my kids that you don’t judge one person off the actions of a few, don’t do that to the officers either.”
Sumner said he won’t tolerate racist officers in his agency and urged his police force and citizens to bring it to his attention if they see something.
DeArmond told the crowd, “We are in this together and we are unified.”
“All I can preach is that we will have transparency in my office and the chief’s office and we will do everything accordingly,” he said. “We need to have those tough one-on-one conversations that no one wants. I’ve got to humble myself to understand and look at things from different points of view.”
As the speakers concluded, pastor Greenwade said the rally is not where the accountability should end.
“Protesters will not stop until we are treated like first-class citizens,” he said. “Black lives matter, all lives matter, and we’ve got to let them know that we matter.”
The crowd decided to march to Peace Park chanting again “black lives matter, no justice, no peace, no racist police.”
Local police officers and sheriff’s deputies helped clear the route for protesters to march safely, and some waved as the crowd passed by.