Outraged but civil, a diverse crowd gathered Sunday afternoon in downtown Statesboro to protest police brutality in the wake of the officer-involved killing of George Floyd last week in Minneapolis.
Most wore masks in compliance with COVID-19 pandemic mandates. Men and women of all ages and races marched, held signs, and chanted “enough is enough” as they walked through the streets, stood listening to speakers on the courthouse square, and observed as some reenacted the shocking behavior that ended Floyd’s life.
On May 25, Minnesota police detained Floyd over an allegedly counterfeit $20 bill. Handcuffed and lying face down, Floyd repeatedly said, “I can’t breathe” as Officer David Chauvin knelt with is weight on Floyd’s neck for eight minutes. Chauvin is charged with 3rd-degree homicide and manslaughter. Three other officers at the scene, involved in Floyd’s detainment, were fired and also may face charges as the investigation unfolds.
Floyd’s death has sparked protests and riots across the nation over the past several days, as incensed crowds gathered in Minneapolis-St. Paul, New York City, Seattle, Los Angeles, Atlanta, Washington, D.C., and other cities. In many places, rioters set fires, looted businesses, threw rocks, bricks and explosives at police and dismissed curfews as they protested police brutality and systemic racism.
But Statesboro’s protests were both passionate and peaceful.
‘Proud of Statesboro’
While there was no violence or disturbance, Statesboro police were at the scene during the 5 p.m. rally at the Bulloch County Courthouse. Georgia Southern University police monitored activity at an earlier protest held at 2 p.m. at the Russell Union Rotunda.
Sunday’s protests were planned. Two others held Saturday at the corner of Fair Road and Georgia Avenue and downtown Statesboro were informal, said Statesboro Police Chief Mike Broadhead.
All gatherings were without incident, he said. “It was more of a rally than a protest. There were several speakers, they all made their point ... and people seemed attentive.”
There were no disturbances.
“I am proud of the people in our community, that they feel like they don’t have to destroy something to make their point,” he said.
Rev. Donald Chavers, who along with his sister, Statesboro City Council member Paulette Chavers helped organize Sunday’s protest, also referred to the vandalism and looting that was absent in Statesboro. While not advocating the violence, he said such behavior is spawned by people desperate to be heard.
“If you want the ridiculous things to stop — listen to the people … and do right by everybody,” he said in an energetic address to the crowd.
Paulette Chavers said she is also proud of the community’s response, including that the crowd was made up of “all races, genders, and sexual orientations. Standing together in unity.”
She said the official protests came about after fellow City Council member Shari Barr joined in a small protest Saturday.
Barr said she was passing by and spotted a woman holding a sign. After stopping to speak, she went home, “made a sign and went back to join her,” she said.
Spreading the word to Chavers, Barr and others planned the Sunday events, “sent out a flyer and Shari put it on Facebook,” Chavers said.
Larger than expected
The turnout was more than planned, Ms. Chavers said. There was an estimated 300 people in attendance.
”I am pleased that people took time to stand up against the racism and police brutality. (Only a very small number of) cops are bad,” but the reality of prejudice against the black community is obvious, she said.
Several local leaders attended the rally and spoke, including Keith Howard, who is opposing Bulloch County Sheriff Noel Brown for the seat in the upcoming primary election June 9.
“I just showed up to be a part of the event and show my support of the community, and pay respects to the man, George Floyd, who was killed in Minnesota,” he told the Statesboro Herald. ”Ms. Paulette Chavers and her brother came up to me and asked me to speak.”
He denounced police brutality, and praised the efforts to bring attention to the matter. “We can’t sit back and not voice our concerns about such tragedies as what happened in Minneapolis,” he said.
“We have to come together as one and not be divided. We cannot sit by and allow law enforcement to act in this manner. I attended this event because I love Bulloch County. All of it.”
GSU Police Chief Laura McCullough was not available Monday for comment about the gathering held on campus, Jennifer Wise, GSU communications director, said McCullough attended the Russell Union event.
She also shared comments from the GSU Office of Inclusive Excellence and Office of Multicultural Affairs, issued Sunday.
The message read, in part: “It breaks our heart to write to the Georgia Southern University family again to express our hurt, pain, and sadness regarding the killing of George Floyd. We make no excuses for these events and condemn any violence that impedes personhood, regardless of the source. We extend our deepest condolences to the families involved and all members of our learning community who are personally affected by these tragedies—especially our students, faculty, and staff of color.”
The statement also expressed support of the community’s exercising their “1st Amendment rights to peacefully assemble and express themselves.”
Ms. Chavers said the Statesboro police were the only law enforcement attending the rally at the Courthouse, but “I did see some (she believed were Bulloch County Sheriff’s deputies) inside.
Bulloch County Sheriff Noel Brown did not immediately return calls seeking comment on the rallies Monday. Chief Deputy Bill Black said there were two uniformed deputies at the Bulloch County Judicial Annex one street over, who were available “in case of emergency.”
However, in a Bulloch County Sheriff’s Office Facebook page post published Saturday night, Brown stated “We have compassion for and understand the heartfelt sorrow for the family of George Floyd in Minneapolis, Minnesota. What happened was truly a tragedy and we pray that justice will be served.
“We understand the need to protest and express your feelings. That being said, as your Sheriff, it is my constitutional duty to uphold and defend the Constitution of the United States and of the State of Georgia. This means we will allow any group to gather in a peaceful manner. As long as the protests are peaceful and respectful to the community, we will support you.
However, destruction and/or vandalism of private or public property will not be tolerated in any capacity.”
Herald reporter Holli Deal Saxon may be reached at (912) 489-9414.