Hundreds gather in Vicksburg to push for change, honor George Floyd
George Floyd was murdered at the hands of those who are sworn to serve and protect. He was killed at the hands of police in Minneapolis, Minn., an act that has sparked outrage and protests across the nation and the world.
Friday, residents in Vicksburg had their chance to have their voices heard and to push for change so that Floyd’s life and death would not have been in vain.
Through a groundswell on social media, a handful of organizers, working with the city of Vicksburg, the Vicksburg Police Department and the Warren County Sheriff’s Office, coordinated a march and protest that attracted more than 300 participants.
Facing temperatures well into the 90s, protesters — young and old, black and white — gathered at the Vicksburg Police Department before making their way down Walnut Street to Jackson Street and then ending at Washington Street Park for a rally.
“I thought about my ancestors, who had to go through things before me. I thought about my parents, who went through things. And, I’m doing it for my sons and grandsons, so they won’t have to go through those things,” Ruth Bland, 70, said as she marched, still thinking of the images of a police officer kneeling on Floyd’s neck, slowly killing him. “I wonder how can you hold your foot on somebody for eight minutes to the point where they cannot breathe and they cry for their mama? It touched me.”
For Vicksburg Police Chief Milton Moore, one of the city leaders asked to speak during the rally, he knew some would be skeptical of his words given the nature of the crime committed in Minnesota by police officers.
“I’m hurt by what I saw happen to George Floyd. I’m outraged and if you’re not outraged over what happened to George Floyd, then you need to take a look in the mirror,” Moore said to the hundreds gathered. “What is frustrating is every time police take one step forward toward forging a relationship with the community, an officer does something stupid that knocks us back. We as officers have to condemn their actions. Are there bad police officers? Yes, and they need to be rooted out.
“I do not condone the mistreatment of any person, nor will I tolerate it,” he said as the crowd applauded.
From the very beginning, organizers of the event said it would be peaceful and would not turn into a riot as others have in a number of cities throughout the nation. Mike Bunch, one of the event organizers, said the rally was an example of what “love could do” and that “love conquers all.”
Beverly Holly, who joined in Friday’s event, said it was important for her to participate because the cycle of violence must stop.
“It’s not just because I have three sons and four grandsons, it’s for each and everyone; each and every male and female. It matters to each and everyone,” she said. “We want the brutality to stop. We want the killing to stop.”
Vicksburg Mayor George Flaggs Jr. echoed that sentiment during his remarks, remarks that were built upon Floyd’s cries of “I can’t breathe.”
“Make America a better America. Make a change. If they say ‘I can’t breathe,’ then say in the state of Mississippi we are going to make a change. We are going to change from this day forward if they say they can’t breathe. Tell every county, every city in this nation that you must change,” Flaggs said. “You must stop the police brutality. You must stop it. You must teach your police officers to serve with honor, dignity and respect for all men. Teach them the way we teach it in Vicksburg. Teach them.
“I can’t breathe,” Flaggs continued. “Say, I can’t breathe. I can’t breathe. Stop the violence.”
Flaggs also challenged his own community.
“Stop the black-on-black crime,” he said. “Stop it. Turn to each other. Stop trying to own each other. Tell them that Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. said ‘Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.’ Tell them if they can’t breathe, come to Vicksburg. Tell them we going to start a change. Do not let George Floyd leave this world in vain.”
For those participating in the march and protest, there was hope Floyd’s death and the conversations sparked because of his murder will result in positive changes.
“My hope is that this march will bring back awareness for all the people of Vicksburg and everyone else in Mississippi to realize that black lives really matter,” Mary Ann Peoples said.
“I hope this march brings all of us together as human beings and not by race,” Zelma Wilson said. “We all were created to breathe and supposed to breathe.”
Joe Mosley, who opened the march with prayer Friday, attended with his wife, Charlene, and two sons, Joe and Nathan. He said he hoped the movement pushed for better understanding and justice.
“Just to share our voice and let everybody know we have equal rights and to promote social justice. And that even in Mississippi, we can still do great things and great things are still coming,” Mosley said. “It’s exciting to see what’s going to happen and how many people are going to turn out for it.
“It’s awesome,” he said of the turnout and the mixture of people represented. “Togetherness. No color. All are here, white, black. It’s an awesome thing to see family and friends coming out here to support one another.
“It’s a part of history,” Mosley added. “I think we’re making history. We still have some things to do and a ways to go, but this is definitely a start. To have it happen here in Vicksburg is a great thing.”
And for as for Bland, who thought of her ancestors, her parents, her children and grandchildren, she said Friday’s event gave her a belief that something good would come from something so terrible.
“I think this will do it,” she said simply. “Everybody will stand up and hear.”
Vicksburg Post writers Tim Reeves, Ernest Bowker and John Surratt contributed to this report.