Communities across the country are hurting as the names of Black people continue to trend as hashtags after their deaths. Over the weekend, Charlotte joined cities across the nation in protests sparked by the murder of George Floyd. Protesters have taken their cries of injustice to the streets, and the message has largely been the same: Enough is enough.
Two groups organized Sunday afternoon adding to the calls for change and stressing the fact that Black lives do matter. Organizers for the “It Ends Now” rally at First Ward Park said the goal was to show churches’ leadership in these times.
Geoffrey Gibbs, lead pastor at Encounter Church and one of the event’s organizers, says church leaders have been criticized for being silent, although it’s contrary to the role that the church has played in civil rights throughout history.
“From Nat Turner to Howard Thurman to Martin Luther King Jr. to William Barber, the church has always been able to speak and lead [on issues of] injustice, so now we are trying to bring that level of leadership openly to help consolidate unity and righteousness through justice,” he said.
It was a diverse crowd of participants across age, race and gender as hundreds of people marched through Uptown Charlotte before circling back to First Ward Park. Protesters carried signs with messages like “Say Their Names,” “Stop Police Brutality” and “White Silence is Violence.”
Elected officials were also spotted among the crowd. District 4 County Commissioner Mark Jerrell said it was important for city leaders to be present and listen.
“As a Black man, my heart is broken for the families, for my people and the younger generation,” he shared. “I need to do everything that I can to bring substantive change through policy and by lifting my voice and making sure that I’m speaking clear, that I’m calling out injustice, and when I see something that’s wrong, I’m doing my best to correct it.”
As the Black national anthem, “Lift Every Voice and Sing,” played over loudspeakers in First Ward Park, Rosalyn Allison-Jacobs stood silent with a fist in the air. She grew up in the early days of civil rights marches. In her opinion, not much has changed since then.
She was angry and attended the rally because, in her mind, if she didn’t show up for justice, then who would?
She knows all too well what it means to be a Black person living within a system that disproportionately affects marginalized people. Allison-Jacobs, who works as a consultant, acknowledged that she lives a privileged life, yet it doesn’t shield her or her family from unfair treatment because of their skin color. She’s holding onto hope for a different future for her sons.
“I’m a mother of three sons. I’m a mother of a son who’s been victimized by the weaponization of African-American males in the criminal justice system, which means that no matter what your privilege or status in life, all that matters in this country is the color of your skin,” she said with pain in her voice. “That’s what dictates the kind of justice that you receive. I’m tired, and I’m ready for it to be completely deconstructed and torn down and built again the right way. I think that’s the only solution.”
Blocks away, a group of college students assembled at Romare Bearden Park to march through Uptown Charlotte as part of the T.H.U.G.L.I.F.E protest. Organizers say the title referenced an acronym used by late rapper Tupac Shakur, which stood for “The Hate U Give Little Infants F–ks Everyone” — a message warning that to continue raising youth in a negative society will continue a cycle of racism, violence and oppression.
Along with George Floyd, the peaceful protest also acknowledged Breonna Taylor, the 26-year-old Black woman shot to death on March 13 in her home by Louisville (Kentucky) Metro Police officers. The chants of “Black Lives Matter” and “hands up, don’t shoot” silenced as the crowd stopped near the Epicentre.
With fists raised, protesters knelt for nine minutes — the length of the video showing George Floyd handcuffed on the ground with a Minneapolis police officer kneeling on his neck. Protesters shouted “I can’t breathe,” repeating some of Floyd’s final words as his body went lifeless.
More protests are scheduled in the coming days, including a protest on June 2 hosted by the Charlotte-Mecklenburg branch of the NAACP.
See more photos from Sunday’s protests.