More than 150 people gathered in front of the Hernando courthouse Friday night for a peaceful protest against police brutality and systemic racism.
Similar protests have been held in all 50 states this week, and activists are continuing to schedule more across Mississippi. These protests come in response to the recent deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and Ahmaud Arbery. While their deaths have served as catalysts for the current wave of protests, those participating say they are motivated by centuries of racial terror in the United States.
A group of mostly young people from DeSoto County organized the Hernando event. For all of them, it was their first protest.
“My entire life growing up in DeSoto County schools, I could not be unapologetically black, said Shelby Williams, 20, a co-organizer of the Hernando protest and a student at The University of Memphis. “We have a lot of people in our community and we have to accept diversity. As much as some people might want, black people can’t leave and we’re not going to.”
Organizers tried to keep the protest plans under wraps at first, but one person posted details online prematurely. The post quickly circulated locally, and organizers started receiving death threats. Organizers then reached out to the Hernando Police Department. According to organizers, Chief of Police, Scott Worsham, quickly offered support. Several officers monitored the event and directed traffic from across the street.
“The protestors, it was a crowd of all races. I believe we have a good relationship with the community. (DeSoto County) It’s a good place to live, and we want to keep it like that,” said Assistant Chief of Police, Shane Ellis.
Following speeches from seven organizers, protestors marched around the courthouse eight times. One for each minute Derek Chauvin kneeled on George Floyd’s neck. Sticking to the sidewalks, the line stretched around three sides of the courthouse. As they marched, protesters chanted “No justice, no peace. No racist police!” Some protesters also sang happy birthday in honor of Breanna Taylor, who would have been 27 on Friday. Louisville police killed Taylor in March during an attempt to execute an arrest warrant for someone who had already been in police custody for hours.
Though social distancing guidelines are impossible to observe during a protest, nearly all those in attendance wore a face mask.
The only source of tension during the protest came from a man who showed up with a Confederate battle flag. After being directed away from protesters, the man hung the flag in the bed of his truck and started doing laps around the courthouse. As he antagonized protesters, one ripped the flag from the pole in his truck. HPD officers then intervened, returning the flag and directing the man away from the protest area.
At least one other vehicle drove by donning Confederate flags, but most who drove by just wove and honked their horns in support.
Afterwards, Katelyn Cartwright, 19, a co-organizer from Hernando and student at The University of Southern Mississippi, said she was surprised by both the large turnout and how smoothly the protest went.
“I just hope that other communities who are trying to host protests see that it can be done peacefully,” Cartwright said. The media just focuses on the ones that go wrong… so I just hope that we are a light to let people know that you can peacefully bring awareness.”