GOSHEN — People who were enraged over the killing of George Floyd by Minneapolis, Minnesota, police took to the streets in the city over the weekend.
Protesters first gathered on the sidewalk along Main Street in front of the county courthouse Saturday, chanting the slogans “His name was George,” “No justice, no peace,” “Black lives matter,” and others. Supporters driving by honked their car horns. A few who disagreed revved their vehicle engines in an attempt to drown out the shouts. The event was peaceful and no police were present.
The protesters then walked through the downtown, chanting loudly along city streets.
Protesters again took to the streets Sunday afternoon when they marched down Main Street. They stopped at the intersection of Main and Washington streets, where the large group of people sat in the road. Some had one fist raised while others put their hands in the air as the group chanted “Don’t shoot” and “Justice for George Floyd.” Some of the protesters positioned themselves stretched out face-down on the ground with their hands behind their backs.
The group then marched down Main Street to the county courthouse, where they remained for several hours. As the sun went down, Goshen police officers responded to resolve a situation involving a car boxed in by demonstrators. Members of the Goshen Police Department and Elkhart County Sheriff’s Office then lined up at Clinton and Main streets. Around 10:10 p.m., police left the courthouse and set up barricades at Washington and Main streets. Protesters followed, marching to the intersection.
About 100 protesters who remained around 10:30 p.m. kneeled and raised their hands in protest as police lined the south side of the intersection. Some protesters approached police and fist-bumped them, in a sign of solidarity.
“We gotta be united as a community,” no matter who people are, one man insisted as he made an appeal for calm as a community.
The speaker’s assertion that “not all cops are bad” did not go over well with a few people in the crowd that had gathered.
As the man called for more open dialogue, others shouted him down with “We are not a threat.”
Around 11 p.m., protesters were nose-to-nose with the line of officers. Brock Richardson-Mills, who organized the initial event at the courthouse Sunday, was at odds with a demonstrator over the approach to the situation. Protests ended peacefully around 11:30 p.m. Sunday
Saturday was the first protest Tracy Degraffreed, of Elkhart, a retired military man, and his wife, Yolanda, had ever attended.
Tracy held up a sign that stated, “I might be next.”
As an African-American family, the Degraffreeds said the killing of Floyd was something they could not let pass without trying to make changes.
“I think it was time for it,” Tracy said of his first protest. “We have been marching, peaceful protesting, begging and pleaded for something to happen to this country to treat black folks fairly. We have not done it yet. We have not met that.”
Asked why he believes that goal has gone unmet, Tracy said, “I believe there is systemic racism. I believe that powers at the top want to continue to keep that power at the top and since we have already been looked at as property from slavery, it shows every day.”
He said there is a difference in the way blacks and whites are treated by police.
“And because we are being brutalized, we are being hunted — we can’t run, we can’t sit in cars, we can’t go to the parks,” Tracy said. “There are a lot of things we can’t do in this country. We can’t allow that to continue to happen to us. And now it is coming to a head, and that is what we are seeing in Minneapolis.”
Tracy said he has experienced unequal treatment by police officers, saying he owns two businesses and has been stopped by officers while driving, but avoided tickets. But the officers have asked him how he can afford the nice cars he drives.
When he watched the video of Floyd’s death, Tracy said he thought, “It is modern day lynching … If that man did something wrong the police were there to apprehend him. I am all for that. But you can’t be judge, jury and executioner on the side of the street.”
PROTEST FOLLOWS ONE IN ELKHART
Camden Chaffee, a Democrat candidate for Elkhart County Council, said he organized Saturday’s rally for Goshen after a rally was held Friday in Elkhart.
“I was just trying to raise awareness in a peaceful way,” Chaffee said.
Asked if he believes Elkhart County is vulnerable to the same situation that occurred in Minneapolis, Chaffee said, “I think we are vulnerable as well,” adding he believes Dr. Martin Luther King was right when he said, “A threat to justice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”
‘THEY NEED TO HEAR OUR VOICES’
Taneshia Ritter, of Goshen, was one of the many white people in the crowd of 60 or so Saturday.
“We are just standing up for what is right. Standing for the black people,” Ritter said. “They need to hear our voices.”
Ethan Lapp, of Goshen, held a “Black lives matter” sign.
“I am coming out to protest the violence happening against black and brown bodies all across the United States especially,” Lapp said. “Black and brown people are murdered by police and the police need to be held accountable for their actions. I think it is especially important for white people to recognize that we are the ones who contributed to this system so we need to fix the system. It is on us; we are the ones who built it so we need to destroy it too.”
Yolanda and Tracy also stated there is ingrained racism in the United States and they have told their two sons, one serving in the Navy and the other the Air Force, to take precautions to try and protect themselves.
“That’s a conversation white folks will never have to have with their children,” Tracy said.
“Even if you tell your children how to interact with a police officer, you think you are telling them what to do right, they could still end up losing their life because you see so many cases where black people in general complied with the police officer, and they are still dead,” Yolanda said.
“So, what do you tell your children,” Yolanda anguished. “What can you tell your children?”