MARIETTA — A group of about 150 responding to the recent death of George Floyd in Minneapolis, as well as other black men killed by police, converged on Laurel Park in Marietta on Monday morning to peacefully march from the park up Whitlock Avenue to Marietta Square and back.
Marietta police officers escorted the group on their nearly three-mile round-trip journey, and no injuries or arrests were reported, according to a police department spokesman.
Protests across the country have been held in the past weeks in response to a widely circulated video in which former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin holds his knee down on Floyd’s neck for nearly eight minutes before he was later pronounced dead.
Monday marked the second day of peaceful protests in Marietta. Sunday saw hundreds march in Marietta and Kennesaw.
“I’m out here today just to fight for my rights and to speak out against the injustices against people of color and any injustice anywhere,” said Justin Simmonds, one of the members of the group who emerged as a leader. “Dr. (Martin Luther) King once said, ‘An injustice to one of us is an injustice to all of us.’”
Others told the MDJ they wanted to create a better world for their friends or family. One protester told the paper she didn’t want to continue having to fear if her brother would make it out alive if pulled over by police.
The group was diverse — a mix of black, white, Hispanic, Asian and other races — and while most attendees were young, some were in their 70s.
Monday morning’s group was part of a larger group that had planned to hold the march, but later called it off for fear that “bad actors,” were planning to get involved and turn the march violent. Those who showed up on Monday morning either did not receive that message or decided to march anyway, and impromptu leaders who emerged reiterated many times to those in attendance that the march must remain peaceful.
Makya Harris, one of those leaders, repeatedly told the group to report anyone who became violent and said their group would remain above violent actions at all costs. Simmonds encouraged the group to exchange contact information and get organized. Both leaders also encouraged the crowd to vote.
“What are we going to do tomorrow? I need you to get three people that you trust and get them in on this,” Simmonds said to the group before leaving for the Square. “Get to know the person next to you. Exchange information. That way, we have created a network.”
Before they left, Marietta Deputy Police Chief Marty Ferrell also encouraged the group to continue their peaceful demonstrations. Ferrell said the marches are how change can be made in America.
“I appreciate you being here today,” he said, noting the officers would provide water or rides to those who were tired or thirsty as they walked. “We are here to support you 100% as you walk to the Square. ... We support everything you guys are here to do, what your cause is, what you’re doing, and if I wasn’t in this uniform now, I’d be walking with you.”
As they marched up Whitlock Avenue toward the Square, the group was met with support from many motorists who honked their horns and waved or shouted their support out their windows. A few protesters, led by police, also rolled alongside the walking group in their cars, holding signs with phrases like “I can’t breathe,” and “No justice, no peace.”
As they walked, they chanted, “Black lives matter,” and “No justice, no peace, no racist police.” When leaders in the group would shout, “Say his name,” the group would respond, “Which one?” Protesters said that particular chant represented the enormity of the police brutality problem in America and the number of unarmed black men who had died at the hands of an officer.
As the group approached North Marietta Parkway, Judi Adkins, a psychotherapist who works on Whitlock Avenue, held her fist in the air as tears streamed down her face. She shouted her support to the protesters who walked by. She said she didn’t know the protesters would be coming, but she’d been trying to figure out how to get involved.
“I’m here because there’s no other way to be,” she said. “We are humans, and black lives have been repressed, and the police brutality has been horrific. And I stand with these people, with all people.”
Adkins said she’d been moved to tears by the heartbreak of the recent deaths of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery and others and because of the way communities around the country are coming out in such numbers to make change.
Once at Marietta Square, the group held a rally, with a few members speaking from the Glover Park stage.
“We are here to let the world know, starting with our community, so that our voices can ring and so the word can spread that we are done putting up with this,” Simmonds said. “And that all lives do not matter unless black lives matter.”
“We right now are a symbol that a peaceful protest is possible,” added Harris. “We don’t have to riot like animals. We can show our cause peacefully. ... Like we deserve to do as Americans.”
The protesters prayed, cried, knelt in silence, cheered and chanted together before returning back to Laurel Park via their same route. Members of the group reached into a passing car to comfort and hug a crying driver.
“I’m so tired,” she said as she sobbed, referring to multiple black men who had died through police shootings.
“We love you. We see you,” the protesters said as they embraced the woman.
Officer Chuck McPhilamy, spokesman for the Marietta Police Department, said the department applauds those with a passion for change and pushes them to move further, by running for elected office, for example. He said the partnership between the police and the group that showed Monday had gone smoothly.
“Listening to the two different organizers (Harris and Simmonds) speak this morning, it is clear that they have a passion for change and that they have a passion for peace,” he said.