’Stand with us’ – Columbia rallies in largest local protest since Floyd death
Over 1,000 protesters flooded the streets as they marched through downtown Columbia Sunday — forming the largest local demonstration in support of the Black Lives Matter movement since protests erupted following George Floyd’s death on May 25.
Under the 90-degree heat, the crowd covered over half a mile in length and was filled with people of varying races and ages. Posters with statements such as “Black Lives Matter” or “fight the power” written in ink waved in the streets. People chanted in voices that rose and fell and rose again. Together, they highlighted the injustices black people face in society and in front of police officers, as well as the change needed to prevent future harm.
“The very fact that this many people have assembled is a testament to the desire of people to see change,” speaker Mataka Askari said in front of the crowd at the start of the demonstration.
The rally began and ended at the Boone County Courthouse, and it included speeches, singing, voter registration, poetry readings and praying in addition to the march.
“There's passion behind it, so I don't realize how long I'm walking, I don't realize how tired I am,” protest organizer Markiez Smith said in an interview before the event. “But what I do realize is that my black life, my black sisters' lives, my black brothers' lives, all of our lives matter, and we have to bring awareness — so if I got to march from sunup to sundown, I’m going to be marching from sun up to sundown.”
Smith, 24, organized the Black Lives Matter Protest alongside his brother, Christopher Watkins Jr. It followed nearly two weeks of continuous local and national protests against Floyd’s death and police brutality on a national scale.
Since the protests began, the four police officers involved in George Floyd’s murder have been charged.
However, people cannot stop fighting until the system changes, Columbia resident and protester Deborah Greene said.
“We have to continue this fight until there is change, until there is legislative change,” Greene said. “We can’t stop now until something is done, so we just have to keep on.”
Greene held a black poster with the words “take your knee off my neck” written in white lettering. This was the third protest she had attended since Columbia’s protests began, she said.
Demonstrations by community activists have been mostly peaceful in Columbia, but cars rammed into two protesters June 1.
On Saturday, hundreds attended a rally in Columbia organized by the Columbia NAACP and Mid-Missouri Peaceworks.
Smith said the community had offered more support than he ever could have expected.
“The moment that I asked for help from the community, I kid you not, in one night — I thank the community — people around the city, people that I don't know, sent my Cash App and my Venmo between $800 to like $1,100,” Smith said.
Smith started putting the event together June 1, less than a week before the event. Initially, he expected 200 or 300 people to show up, he said, but as people showing their interest on Facebook quickly reached the thousands, he reached out to Watkins and the speakers for more help.
If people are to take away anything from the protest, Smith said, they should learn that it’s time to speak up about the injustices black people face. White people especially should use their privileges to be allies to the black community, he said.
“Just like you would want somebody to speak out against injustice on white people, people should start speaking out about injustice on black people,” Smith said. “Their silence is basically agreeing with what's going on. We need people to speak out more, and we need people to stand with us.”
This is especially true regarding the ways police treat black people, he said.
“Those police officers that are put here to protect us and serve us, those are the same people who are killing us,” Smith said, “We fear for our lives as African American people when we encounter a white cop.
“You know, when I’m going out, will I be the next George Floyd? Or will I be the next Sandra Bland? Or will I be the next Breonna Taylor, Michael Brown, the list goes on and on about African Americans who were killed by the people who are supposed to protect us.”
Smith also said people could stay after, due to the country’s freedom of speech clause, but his event would end at 5 p.m. Chalk was supposed to be left at the site for people to write what they would do to fight for equality when the march ended, but the crowd was so large there was no room during the event itself.
Sunday’s protest officially ended with encouragement from speaker Briana Cato to continue to fight, and as people dispersed, messages such as “Black Lives Matter” and “say their names,” written in chalk, became visible before the courthouse. If protesters continue to gather at the courthouse for new demonstrations supporting the same cause, words etched in chalk will rest under their feet, and remind them that they cannot stop fighting, perhaps even after the chalk has faded away.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.