The old brick buildings of downtown Albertville’s Main Street echoed with the shouts of protesters Saturday who were calling for justice against police brutality and racial discrimination in America.
Hundreds of people gathered at Albertville High School where a demonstration was held for George Floyd — the Minnesota man who died while being apprehended by police — before the march began. To mimic the manner of his death, the crowd laid prostrate in the grass for eight minutes and 46 seconds, their hands behind their backs, while one of the protest organizers, Unique Dunston, read aloud Floyd’s final words.
The protestors then proceeded to march through downtown taking the traditional homecoming parade route. Most held up handmade signs bearing the protest message of justice and racial equality. Many were yelling slogans such as “Black lives matter,” “We want peace” and “No justice, no peace.” The protesters also shouted thanks to the many law enforcement officers who were stationed along the route blocking traffic and providing security.
Before the protest began, as a small crowd of onlookers gathered around the downtown area, tensions mounted as many were worried the peaceful protest might turn violent like many others have across the country.
Brian and Elizabeth Black, owners of Jamokas, painted messages of “love” and “equality” on their storefront windows in solidarity with the protesters. Elizabeth Black said she supported the protests in general but didn’t approve of the damage that had resulted from them.
“I support what they're doing; I don’t support people damaging property,” she said. “I like to think, you know, my heart tells me [the people of ] Albertville, they're not going to put up with a lot of vandalism and stuff like that, especially the business owners down here. There’s businesses that have been down here by themselves for a long time and they got downtown kind of revitalized — they don’t want to see people tearing it up.”
Thankfully, due to the careful planning of the event by organizers Dunston and Ileana Ramirez and to the efforts of the Albertville Police Department and Marshall County Sheriff’s Office, the protest proceeded peacefully and ended without incident.
“It definitely means a lot to us to be able to do this today and have the support of our community and, of course, our law enforcement,” Ramirez told The Reporter. “We definitely had this vision to be a peaceful protest, not just for George Floyd but those that came before him. And also, we wanted to use this opportunity and platform to address several issues going on in our country, not just police brutality and injustices toward our black brothers and sisters.”
Ramirez said the march was also to protest and raise awareness about immigration issues, particularly involving the Hispanic community, which she said “hasn’t been heard.”
“A lot of them don’t want to be outspoken for fear of consequences,” she said. “A lot of them don’t voice their opinion, not because they don’t want to be heard but because they feel like they can’t.”
She praised her fellow protest organizer, Dunston, who she said “poured her heart and soul” into planning the event, meeting with local church leaders, city council members and police officials so that it would be safe and unifying to the community.
“We’re so happy to have seen a lot of our locals come out in support against violence,” Ramirez said. “[We are] really proud of our community.”
The only brief moment of conflict during the protest occurred when a member of the Deviants Sand Mountain motorcycle club got into a heated exchange with one female protestor. While it was unclear who initiated the argument, the protester shouted, “You’re part of the problem,” as she kept walking down the street, at which point both issued expletive valedictions.