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Historic day in Florida: Black Lives Matter actions in Gadsden, Wakulla and Leon Counties

By Satya Stark-Bejnar |
July 20, 2020
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Protestors face off with Trump supporters.
Protestors face off with Trump supporters.

Tallahassee, FL - Coinciding with a National Day of Protest initiated by the National Alliance Against Racism and Political Repression (NAARPR), independently-organized actions took place on Saturday, July 18 in Quincy, Crawfordville and Tallahassee, Florida, representing Gadsden, Wakulla and Leon counties respectively.

In Quincy, which recently saw the removal of a Confederate monument, around 30 people attended a “Peace and Prayer for our Community” march in response to recent local gun violence, with the heading, “Black Lives Matter To Us.”

In Crawfordville, Kendra Smith was the lead organizer of a 100-plus person “Let Your Voice Be Heard” consciousness raising march and rally, marking the first-ever BLM action in Wakulla County. “I felt we needed a peaceful protest in Wakulla because racism and discrimination is very much alive here and has been for a while from what I’ve been told by residents who’ve lived here their whole lives. My goal of the protest was to bring awareness to this and to take action and show our community we can protest and stay peaceful despite people saying we won’t.”

Upon announcing the event, Smith received many death threats and threats of violence against the protesters. Attendees from the Tallahassee Community Action Committee provided amplified sound, medics, a lead truck and a relief car, and donated water, masks and hand sanitizer.

At least 100 counter-protesters were present, jeering at the Black Live Matter permitted start point in a Winn Dixie parking lot; then lining the march route with a taunting gauntlet; and finally filling most of the open space in a public park - where the BLM rally had permit access to the central pavilion. Counter-protesters had planted Confederate flags and Trump 2020 flags in the bushes. Within the first few minutes of the peaceful march, sheriffs made an unlawful arrest of attendee Adam Ferguson, who was released soon after law enforcement learned they were being filmed and that Ferguson had already handed his phone off to another attendee. After the event, Ferguson said, “I think it’s important for us to be in Wakulla County because that’s a place where these racial tensions exist but have always been hidden. Being in their face about it for the first time ever is a step in the direction of acknowledging and healing.”

In Tallahassee, the Tallahassee Community Action Committee (TCAC) led a march and car caravan to the Leon County Sheriff’s Office to somberly acknowledge a recent local victory - incarcerated people are now permitted to wear masks in their pods and living spaces - and to demand anew that Sheriff Walt McNiel free all people who are eligible for bail or bond to save lives and slow the spread of COVID-19, which is rising locally among civilians of all ages, corrections officers and incarcerated people.

Protesters marching on foot took and held the streets from a nearby community college parking lot to the sheriff’s office. The march was led by longtime activist Trish Brown’s familiar red truck and a giant hand-painted banner depicting the demand, “Free them all,” and followed closely by a protective barricade of car caravan vehicles adorned with handmade signs and window paint.

People marching chanted, “Black lives matter,” “No justice, no peace” and “Free them all!” Honks from the car caravan filled the pauses between the chants as the march arrived at its destination. Attendees spaced out to hear speeches criticizing policing and the criminal justice system, and in favor of community control of police and an urgent, science-based COVID-19 response. Most car caravaners joined the on-foot protesters at the sheriff’s office, while some remained in cars nearby, with AC on in case of heat-related health emergencies.

Tallahassee Community Action Committee President Regina Joseph concluded the action by leading the crowd in a call-and-response recitation of an increasingly well-known quote by Assata Shakur, “It is our duty to fight for our freedom. It is our duty to win. We must love and support each other. We have nothing to lose but our chains!”

Satya Stark-Bejnar (they/he pronouns) is an activist in Tallahassee.

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