by Stephanie Thomas
I was nervous at first, but I am proud I stood up for Black lives lost at the hands of police.
I woke up early on June 1, 2020 prepared to be a part of history. I knew that afternoon I planned to attend a Black Lives Matter protest on Siegen Lane. George Floyd’s death stunned African-Americans across the country, and we were not only enraged, but tired as a community.
I struggled making the decision to attend the night before, but finally decided to go. I hesitated because of what I’d seen happen at other protests across the country. Many peaceful protests were greeted with unnecessary police force, and I honestly didn’t know what to expect. I realized if I was able to complain about the injustices happening across the country, then I was able to go out and do something about them.
I joined a group on Twitter the night before, that gave important details about the protest. To my surprise an acquaintance from high school was also in the group. Nateria Johnson was one of the group’s organizers and she was thrilled that I had joined. Johnson direct-messaged me that night and said, “Stephanie, I’m so excited you’re going to come out and make a difference with us.”
Johnson didn’t realize it, but she was part of the reason I decided to go. I wasn’t sure if I had anyone to go with and that made me feel uneasy. “I’ve been to five different protests, two of them were to protest Alton Sterling’s death, so I know what to expect,” Johnson said. She reassured me that she’d stay by my side.
The protest was scheduled for 5:00 p.m. I waited on my porch with the water bottles and snacks I prepared that morning. My friend, Joey Park, decided to go and agreed to pick me up. We both knew this event was something we couldn’t miss. “Hop in,” Park said. “We’re about to go make some history.” I was excited, but I didn’t know what to expect.
We pulled into Jack in the Box’s parking lot on Siegen and Perkins, to park, and I could see at least 200 people standing in front of it. I texted Johnson to see where she was.
Although, I had Park with me it was nice to find another familiar face. She told us to meet her at the front of the crowd. We walked through the parking lot to the grass with our backpacks and signs; I could see the blaring blue lights of four police cars, and a woman already holding her sign up high that said, “No Justice, No Peace!”
The amount of people of different backgrounds and ethnicities was overwhelming. “Everyone had come together for one cause and it was such a beautiful thing,” Park said.
We finally found Johnson and she gave me a big hug. “I’m so glad y’all could make it,” she said. A woman began to speak about the horrific murder of George Floyd, and how we were out there because of him and all of the other innocent Black people that had been killed at the hand of officers.
“How are we being killed by the very people who are supposed to protect us?” the woman asked. Johnson then held up her sign that said, “A system cannot fail those it was never designed to protect.” People started to cheer and clap in agreement.
The protest organizers led a nine-minute moment of silence that spoke volumes. They chose nine minutes because that was the amount of time George Floyd was pinned down under the knee of a Minneapolis police officer, who took his life. Tears streamed down the faces of many people during that moment. There was a certain unspoken understanding everyone had. I personally thought about how Floyd was begging for his life during those nine minutes, and how I could only imagine what that felt like.
Once the nine minutes were up the protest organizers reminded everyone to stay peaceful as we began to walk down Siegen Lane.
“Remember, we’re out here to make a difference, but one wrong move and this could result in people being dead; please keep the peace,” Johnson said
Officers followed us as we walked. It seemed as if they were out there to “make sure we didn’t get out of line,” rather than to protect us walking down the street. Everyone remained respectful towards them though. The night before I heard that two people had been arrested, but I was thankful this wasn’t the case that day.
People began to raise their signs, and so I followed. My sign read, “#Justice 4 George Floyd.” There was a woman in front of me with her sign held high that said, “Stop Killing Black People w/ Taxpayers $$.” She was going hoarse screaming, “No Justice, No Peace,” with the rest of the crowd. People driving by us were honking their horns to show their support, and we got judgmental glares from others.
As a crowd we chanted, “Alton Sterling,” while one of the organizers screamed, “Say his name!” We were yelling Alton Sterling’s name to bring awareness to his story. He was a Black man, killed by Baton Rouge Police officers in 2016. We also screamed, “Hands up, don’t shoot!”
As we walked by Target’s parking lot, I noticed the boarded up doors. It came as a shock, considering we were a peaceful protest. “I guess they were worried because other stores had been looted across the country,” Park said. “But it was still a bit of a slap in the face because that clearly wasn’t our intentions,” he said.
The day was filled with emotions. We went from laughing to crying as a crowd. It started getting late, so we headed for our cars. Johnson made an effort to speak to as many people as she could. “Every protest is different, but I feel as if our goal is attained each time; and that’s to make a difference and make some noise no matter how small,” Johnson said. There were multiple days of protest, but I was lucky enough to attend one. I witnessed Baton Rouge not only making an impact, but come together as a community.