About 500 gather in East Spencer to protest injustice

Published 10:00 pm Sunday, June 7, 2020

EAST SPENCER — About 500 marching protesters on Sunday packed Long Street on during a planned event that started at the town’s Royal Giants Park and ended at Southern City Tabernacle Church AME Zion Church.

The protesters marched to remember George Floyd, who was killed when a police officer pressed his knee into Floyd’s neck for several minutes, and protest police brutality that has resulted in the wrongful killings of unarmed black Americans across the country. Floyd’s killing was not the only one referenced Sunday. Protesters also recounted the names of Breonna Taylor and Ahmaud Arbery. The men charged in Arbery’s killing were not on-duty police officers, but one of the three involved previously worked for the local police department and as an investigator.

East Spencer Alderman Tony Hillian was one of the organizers. He said event was planned with the help of a number of local pastors, and a meeting was held at Essie Mae Kiser Foxx Charter School on June 2 to arrange the details. Hillian said there was seating prepared for 25 people, but 48 showed up.

“Being the only black town and Rowan County, it means a lot to me,” Hillian said.

Derrick Foxx, one of Essie’s sons, attended the march. Foxx said he was following in her footsteps to try and bring positive things to town.

“I think we’ve got a young, diverse crowd, all different ages up and down the spectrum,” Fox said. “Of course everybody is tired of what’s going on.”

Rev. Andrew Davis, an organizer and associate minister at Fairview Heights Missionary Baptist Church, said the protesters marching so their voices would be heard and be seen.

“We’re coming out against social injustice. We’re coming out against police brutality. We’re coming out against anything that is repressing the people and holding us down or trying to hold us back,” Davis said.

The protest was the largest in Rowan County in the wave of activism following Floyd’s death, and protesters marched nearly two miles. Before the march began, people filled Royal Giants Park. Cars packed into every corner and protesters lined up behind East Spencer Police Chief Sharon Hovis’ truck. There was cold water for everyone and stations along the road for people who needed more.

Hovis told the crowd the department was treating the march as an event and a parade, which received cheers from the crowd.

Personal to her

When the protest began with Hovis leading the way after the advertised starting time, there were still people trying to make their way into the crowd.

Hovis told the Post she was invited to participate by the march’s organizers and the issue was personal to her. Hovis decided to become a police officer because of a bad experience she had with law enforcement, and she wanted to be part of change.

“We’re still tired,” Hovis said. “Everybody is tired of the same thing still happening over and over again.”

The march was peaceful. Marchers chanted phrases like “I can’t breathe,” “Get your knee off my neck,” “No justice, no peace,” and “black lives matter.” One woman was chanting “all lives matter” often with the immediate shouted response of “black lives matter” from the crowd and, sometimes, with the addendum “when black lives matter.”

A parade of approving cars had formed behind the marchers by the end.

‘The plan is simple’

The protest was not over when the marchers reached the church. There was a kneel in solidarity with Colin Kaepernick, the NFL quarterback who was pushed into free agency after kneeling while the National Anthem was performed at games. Kaepernick knelt in protest of police brutality and racial inequality.

The names of a spate of recent victims were read as well: Michael Brown, Eric Garner, Trayvon Martin, Arbery, Taylor and Floyd.

Rev. Anthony Smith, of Mission House, told the crowd he was glad hundreds were there, but said to remember the reason for protests across the county is that people are tired.

“We will fight for our freedom,” Smith shouted through a bullhorn. “People are asking us, ‘Well why are you doing that. What’s the plan?’ The plan is simple: To bring down Babylon. Those without ears to hear, hear what I’m saying: We are here to bring down Babylon. For those who can’t hear what I’m saying: Bringing down, dismantling, this system of white supremacy in every institution in every process and every policy that’s in this county.

“We are here to dismantle systemic racism through policy, through procedure, through process. We are wanting a massive investment in black and brown communities. Defund the police and fund our community.”

Smith went on to espouse the philosophy of Ubuntu, translated as “I am because we are,” and told the crowd nobody is free until we are all free.

“Nobody is free until black lives matter,” Smith said.

Essie May Kiser Foxx Director of Exceptional Children Laurna Malone joined the marchers as well and spoke at the church. She described seeing schools progress through segregation and integration to “selective integration” while working as an educator. And she gave a shoutout to students in the crowd.

“This is a teachable moment right now,” Malone said, adding the wave of protests now is part two of the civil rights movement.

Voter registrations were also being filled out at the protest. More than one speaker implored the crowd about the importance of voting.

8 minutes and 46 seconds

Rev. Patrick Tate, of Southern City, led a long moment of silence lasting eight minutes and 46 seconds — the time George Floyd was on the ground with then-Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin’s knee pressed into his neck.

After two minutes, Tate marked the time and began recounting the widely shared video of Floyd’s death. During that video, Floyd said he could not breath more than a dozen times and called for his mother. The crowd was asked to think about how Floyd felt while this was happening to him.

After the talks and the tributes wrapped up, the crowd dispersed. Church shuttles helped take people who did not have vehicles to pick them up get back to the park.

Hillian said he was moved by the protest.

“I felt the spirit. I felt the passion. I felt the heartache for Mr. Floyd,” Hillian said. “It brought me to tears.”

About Carl Blankenship

Carl Blankenship has covered education for the Post since December 2019. Before coming to Salisbury he was a staff writer for The Avery Journal-Times in Newland and graduated from Appalachian State University in 2017, where he was editor of The Appalachian.

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