Saturday’s protest in Greenwood, as with dozens held around the country, was called to demonstrate against police brutality and racial injustice, both of which have come into sharp focus following the death of George Floyd.
And while the 100 people who gathered in front of Greenwood’s City Hall had plenty to say about the black man’s death at the hands of a white Minneapolis police officer, the peaceful demonstrators also used the occasion to air various racial concerns to city officials in attendance and to revive a call to remove a century-old Confederate monument from the Leflore County Courthouse lawn.
In the two weeks since Floyd’s death, there have been numerous protests, some of them violent, at cities across the country and even overseas. Saturday’s mobilization was one of the largest to date, with tens of thousands turning out to march peacefully from Washington, D.C., to Seattle.
“We’re just here to show our solidarity with national protests about police brutality,” Robert Wilson Jr., a local activist who organized Greenwood’s protest, said on the steps leading up to City Hall.
“It’s a shame that we have to do protests like this in 2020,” he said to those assembled, most of them wear
ing masks as a precaution against the ongoing outbreak of COVID-19. Many of the protesters carried signs saying “Black Lives Matter” or “I can’t breathe” or listing the names of Floyd and other African Americans who have been killed during encounters with police in recent years.
Standing next to Wilson were Greenwood Mayor Carolyn McAdams and Police Chief Jody Bradley, both of whom Wilson had invited. Also present were City Council members Ronnie Stevenson, Charles McCoy, Lisa Cookston and David Jordan.
“I think we will make something matter — in our hearts, if nothing else,” McAdams said, adding that acts of police brutality should not happen.
The mayor said that Greenwood’s Police Department has made changes to make the department more accountable.
Bradley, who’s headed the city’s police force since December, said various aspects of society, such as the church, school and the individual, need to come together to better the community.
He said he plans to reach out to the residents of each of the city’s seven wards to ask what can be done to better the community.
“Why we’re here today is because someone didn’t do the right thing,” Bradley said. “As you see us get more involved in the communities, you’ll see us more out and about.”
Bradley, however, was challenged by one of the protesters, Rachel Lewis, about what she perceives as a lack of police presence.
“Nothing is wrong with police in the community. Get out of your car and talk to these kids,” she said.
Bradley responded that when he personally goes on patrol, he’ll introduce himself and talk with residents. He said he plans for the department to implement more such patrols for officers to develop a rapport within the community and build trust.
Other protesters aired grievances that ranged from accusing the police of a lax attitude toward serious crimes, such as shootings, to being racially disproportionate in cracking down on minor crimes.
“You’re not telling me that the whites in Greenwood don’t get DUIs, they don’t run stop signs. But if they do, we never know because the names in the paper represent this side of the track,” said a black woman whose name could not be determined.
Responding to the criticism of the city’s law enforcement efforts, Stevenson, the City Council’s president, said it’s hard for police to balance between having a presence and not overpolicing.
“It’s hard to meet in the middle,” he said.
Several people commented on the lack of recreational venues and activities for youth in Greenwood, claiming that boredom is fueling some of the city’s gun violence.
Stevenson said the city does provide funding to several youth-related organizations, such as the Onnie M. Elliott Community Center, ArtPlace Mississippi and the Boys & Girls Club of Leflore County. He added, though, that if the community came together, funds could be quickly raised for other youth-oriented centers.
Troy Brown Sr., a contractor with the Federal Emergency Management Agency, pressed McAdams and other members of the City Council whether they would support his effort to have the Confederate monument removed from its prominent spot in front of the Leflore County Courthouse.
One spinoff of the protests over Floyd’s death has been calls to take down or relocate Confederate monuments, many of which were erected decades after the Civil War in what historians say was an organized effort to reinforce white dominance in the South. The Greenwood monument was erected in 1913 by the United Daughters of the Confederacy.
Three years ago, Brown and one of his sons had proposed erecting a second monument on the courthouse grounds — one devoted to commemorating the struggle for civil rights — but the effort petered out.
On Saturday, Brown, a frequent candidate for public office, said the compromise proposal was a mistake, calling the Confederate monument “evil.”
After repeatedly being asked by Brown whether the City Council would support the monument’s removal, McAdams and Charles McCoy, who represents Ward 4, said the council would consider such a resolution when it meets June 16.
Following a prayer led by Leflore County Chancery Clerk Johnny Gary Jr., the protesters walked around the block twice and concluded the gathering with eight minutes and 46 seconds of silence — the amount of time that Derek Chauvin, the white Minneapolis police officer, knelt on the neck of Floyd, who was unarmed, handcuffed and pleading that he was in physical distress.
Brandice Brown, daughter of Troy Brown Sr. and a teacher at Threadgill Primary, said Saturday’s protest should be looked at as one episode in an ongoing movement.
“All of this is in vain if we don’t continue to work,” she said.
• Contact Gerard Edic at 581-7239 or email@example.com.