Calls for equality: Peaceful protest encourages change
Calling for an end to police brutality and support of the nationwide Black Lives Matter movement, a large group of community members staged a protest on the lawn of the Putnam County Courthouse late Saturday morning into the early afternoon.
It came on the heels of two small protests which were staged a week before. An altercation occurred during one of them, video of which shows a protester being pinned to the ground.
The protest was organized and promoted by 23-year-old Kayce Kean. In an email to the Banner Graphic, she stated that opening up dialogue about race and bigotry needed to be encouraged, as well as for the community to make a stand against hate speech.
“We as a community need to make it clear that we will actively stand beside the minorities and speak out against hate speech,” Kean wrote. “The ultimate goal of the protest (was) to open the window for the hard conversations people weren’t having.
“The Greencastle narrative has changed dramatically over the years,” she added. “We were once considered a ‘quiet town where nothing happens,’ but every day we see our city changing and becoming more diversified. We as a community need to be open to change, even though it’s scary sometimes.”
With the temperature near 90 degrees Fahrenheit, the protesters kept up the demonstration until approximately 1 p.m. and then convened to discuss how to move forward. Some of them had planned to come, while others joined in on impulse.
In statements to the Banner Graphic, Evan Scott, 26, reflected on his own participation in the protest after it ended. His perspective is unique, in that he said the national response to George Floyd’s death in Minneapolis, Minn., brought about an internal change.
Scott described anecdotes when he ridiculed or was dismissive of others’ expressions in the gay community and the Black Lives Matter conversation. The events now rocking the political and social landscapes inspired him to reexamine his beliefs and values.
“Something about this new wave of protests made me realize that casually dismissing these people, being a passive bigot, wasn’t making me happy and hurt people who have and continue to hold me up when I need them,” Scott wrote. “I can’t undo my past, but I can learn from it.”
Scott made a sign that said, “I Changed. Why Can’t America?” He said this sums up how Americans should think about the issues of racism and equality, in which everyone must be willing to learn and change their views.
“I’m not saying it’s easy, and I’m not trying to say anything hurtful about our country or anyone in it,” he wrote. “I know that one person can’t change the country. But one person can encourage another to look at themselves and really break down their own paradigm and find the flaws in it.”
Greencastle police vehicles were parked near the square’s west side. However, no officers interfered with the demonstration or otherwise made their presence known. Perhaps this indicates an understanding about the message, even as distrust is fervent across the nation with regard to violent police actions.
A representative from Greencastle’s NAACP chapter shared that the organization has sought to encourage positive dialogue with local police. Indeed, none of the signs held up or slogans which were shouted expressed any anti-police statements.
At one point during the demonstration, a funeral procession passed by the courthouse. Scott said some participants lowered their signs and the chanting was stopped, while those wearing hats took them off out of respect.
“I felt bad for that family, and tried to show what respect I could, but I knew they’d remember that part of the funeral forever,” he said. “I still don’t know how I feel about that, and if that family sees my words I want them to know I mean no offense. Nobody in the group did.”
Scott related that many driving by honked their horns, cheered or gave the thumbs up. He recounted how one African-American man was passing with his young daughter beside him. While stopped at the southwest light, the driver looked at Scott and said “Thank you.”
“I think he started to cry. I know I did,” Scott said. “I still am, and that was eight hours ago. That one moment proved to me that I was doing the right thing.”
Other drivers gave the middle finger, while one motorcyclist repeatedly shouted “All Lives Matter.” Scott also related that one participant was harassed while taking a bathroom break, prompting a discussion about a safety protocol.
“Walking to and from the protest with my sign was the first time I’ve ever felt unsafe in Greencastle,” he wrote, “and that’s something minorities always feel.”
The potential for further encounters like this one has not hindered Scott’s commitment, or the movement’s for that matter, to be active and continue their calls for equality and change.
“They failed to promote hate, and now we’ll promote love even more because of them,” he affirmed. “That was my experience today, and I’ll be back out there.”
More than 70 community members showed out for the protest. Kean wrote that she was “completely overwhelmed” by the turnout, not expecting more than 20 people to come.
“I never thought I would see such high levels of support in such a small community,” she wrote. “It was so nice to see people from all walks of life come together for a singular message.”
Demonstrations will be held every Saturday this month from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. on the courthouse square. It was agreed by the group during their huddle that continuing the protests would inspire more people to become involved and share the message.
“I don’t think that this is a battle that will be won by a few protests,” Kean concluded. “But I hope to use this platform and the momentum to bring together the community, and keep them actively fighting to make Greencastle welcoming and inclusive to everyone who calls it home.”