The protestors — about 80 to 100 over the space of two hours, lined Wise-Norton Road near the Walmart shopping center and drew plenty of car horns and yells of support from drivers as the group waved signs against the killing of George Floyd by a Minneapolis police officer.
Wise resident Alexis Greene, one of the organizers, said the idea and plan for the protest came together over the weekend though social media postings.
“Honestly, everyone saw the video and it’s one of those things that just causes this outpour of different emotions in all sorts of different communities,” Greene said of video clips shot by bystanders as Minneapolis Police Department Officer Derek Chauvin kneeled on Floyd’s neck for more than eight minutes before Floyd was pronounced dead.
“We just want to show our support in Wise,” Greene said. “Even though we’re not a big city, we can still show our support and stand with the rest of the nation.”
Asked how she felt about statements from the Trump administration and scenes of rioting in other cities in recent days, Greene said it shows change is needed.
“We need leadership that’s going to stand up for the obvious rights that have been deprived from a large group of the community,” Greene said. “We need someone who’s going to stand up for that, and I guess it’s just up to the people to decide who that is.”
Wise resident Steve King, who came to the protest with his daughter to see to her safety, gave younger protesters a pep talk before they marched to the roadside.
“Do your thing. Change the world. I’ve got confidence in you,” King said.
“I believe in social and racial justice and it’s time,” King said before following the group. “It’s time to change this world, it really is, and we can do it through peaceful protest. These kids here are going to change this world and I firmly believe it. Our generation failed them. We failed them big time and we owe it to them to support them and do what we can to help bring about that change.”
King said that, despite the four Minneapolis officers seen with Floyd before his death, he supports police.
“These guys in blue, I support them 100 percent. They’re the good guys. We have some bad apples that betrayed their profession that gave them a bad name, but they’re stepping up. That’s what we need.”
As the protesters lined up on the sidewalk, they began chants of “Peace on the left, justice on the right” and waved signs including references to Floyd’s words to Chauvin before he died: “I can’t breathe.”
Norton resident Kimi Berry and her 10-year-old daughter Melanie found themselves at the protest on short notice.
“She said, ‘Mommy, I want to go up there,’ ” Berry said of her daughter, “and I said put your shoes on, and here we are. I didn’t even know. She was on her tablet and she said, ‘They’re having a protest at Walmart and I’d like to go.’ ”
Berry said that what happened to Floyd struck a nerve with her.
“It’s difficult for me,” Berry said.” I have a 16-year-old son, so when I see things like this, it hurts like heck, it really does. There’s nothing that could distinguish him from George Floyd, for example. He’s a young black man, he’s a gentle giant and me and my husband have to teach him differently about police and law enforcement because such things like this happen and it’s awful.”
“And that’s why (Melanie) wanted to come,” Berry said. “She wanted to come for her brother and her dad.”
Wise resident Cindy Bates and granddaughter Ameera Youmessi came to the protest after hearing about it on social media.
“I don’t want to get into politics because I don’t feel that’s what it’s about,” Bates said. “I think it’s about drawing attention to the need for equality and standing beside our brothers and sisters, all of us. It’s not about black against white, it’s not black against police. It’s good against evil, it’s people against injustice, and I want to say that I am very proud of our law officers and I stand behind them and I support them but I don’t support injustice.”
Bates said the protest also hit home because she has three biracial children and has lived in a community that has welcomed her family without racism.
“I don’t stand for the violence and destruction that’s been going on in our country at all, but I stand with them against injustice because if we love each other we have to share our burdens” Bates said. “In my family, there is no racism and we have never had racism. When you recognize things that maybe you’d rather not think about, you have to stand.”
Bates said that all sides need to talk and listen to each other to tackle injustice and racism.
“We have to hear the pain of the officers who must be heartbroken with the job they do as they’ve been so misunderstood.” Bates said. “I think for the black person that feels their voice is not heard and the justice system that’s let them down. For the families that don’t know how to teach their children about this ugly part of the world. “
Bates said Monday was the first protest she had ever attended.
“I feel very awkward, but I feel like I look back on history when I think about this and all the people who’ve protested for my freedoms, that I’m a woman and I can vote, that we are a free country,” Bates said. “I do believe in making our voice heard in a peaceful and respectful ways.”
“I think it’s a very good experience for me and a very good learning process,” Youmessi added.
Wise County Sheriff Grant Kilgore watched the protest from across the road, and he said he was impressed with how the group handled it.
“We always welcome peaceful, lawful protests,” Kilgore said. “We definitely want them to express themselves and their concerns. This is one of the ways they can petition the government and government officials to make change, and we don’t have a problem with it. This is the way that it’s supposed to be done.”
Kilgore said he agreed with the protesters’ sentiment about how Floyd’s arrest was handled.
“If we find someone who’s mistreating the public and not being a professional and doing their job the way we feel like it needs to be done, that person’s not going to work for my agency,” Kilgore said. “That much I can assure you. We’re not here to abuse anybody or hurt anybody. That’s just not their job.”