WATER VALLEY – “What I see in front of me are people gathered here today in unity to address the issues of racism and injustice,” Sandra Johnson told a crowd of an estimated 150 people who gathered for a peaceful protest/rally at Railroad Park last Friday. The local protest was part of what Johnson described as an event that sparked the world when George Floyd was killed by police during an arrest in Minneapolis, Minn. on May 25.
“At this time we would like to take the eight minutes and 46 seconds, not in silence, but to have an opportunity for each of you to socialize with each other and talk to someone that you would not ordinarily talk to,” Johnson said about the final minutes of Floyd’s life as the event kicked off.
Johnson also encouraged everyone to talk with their children about social injustice, race and change.
“Too many of our children today are afraid because they don’t really understand what is going on. It starts in the home,” Johnson added. She told the group that it is extremely important to know what policing policies are and what policing policies will be changed. Johnson reminded everyone that their vote is important for change, words that would reverberate as a string of speakers shared turns at the podium.
Water Valley Police Chief Jason Mangrum followed Johnson, telling the attendees that his department strives to treat everyone equally.
“That is our goal, that is what we are striving for,” the chief explained, adding that he is available at the police department anytime to discuss issues.
Next to take the podium was event organizer Terry Rockette, who recognized the recipient of the Yalobusha Community Leader Award for Educational Achievement, Lacedric Turner. Rockette shared that Turner completed 16 classes in less than one school year.
“As we know, discrimination is not just out in the streets, discrimination is also in our schools,” Rockette said as turned the mic over to the senior.
“This senior class has set records in unusual ways. We are the first to be known as the quarantine class of 2020, the first to not receive a real prom,” Turner said.
Turner added that he has experienced other firsts in his life, including the first time he faced discrimination. He then shared experiences in a poem he read to the group.
Judith Jones, a minister at Everdale M.B. Church followed Turner.
“It is time for a change, it is time for us to stand together in unity,” Jones told the crowd. “Our voice is our votes, we have to stand together to advocate for those who are less fortunate.”
“Our voice is our votes,” Jones also told the crowd, “the stand starts with you.”
The former director of International Programs at the University of Mississippi, Johannson recounted the names of other African American men and women who were killed during the last five decades, starting with Medgar Evers.
“A string of names throughout our history… wasn’t that enough,” he told the crowd before offering five words of encouragement. “There are more of us, there are more of us, there are more of us…”
“I normally don’t watch the news, because as the mother of three black men it is hard for me to watch the news and watch what is going on,” Hill, a concerned citizen of Oxford, explained.
Hill said she used to tell her sons not to say a word if they were stopped by the police, instead instructing them to bring it to her and she would deal with it.
“But now I will tell them to put it live on Facebook, because you better have something to back it up because they will lie. Stream it live on Facebook so you have something to back you up,” she reiterated.
Pancho of Coffeeville
“We have all been out here and been young before. We have seen something these kids haven’t witnessed yet,” Pancho told the group. “But they are going through something we haven’t witnessed before.”
Pancho then invited all men in the group to come to the front.
“All the men stand in the back too much and watch stuff happen. We sit back and watch these women try to raise these kids. They are trying to turn these kids into men and that is our jobs,” he urged the male attendees.
“We can’t sit back and watch any more, don’t be the one to complain, be the one to make a change.”
A Water Valley resident, Carrasco who also emceed the event, explained that racism is a religious assumption that God made a mistake when be brought some people into existence.
“We know that is not true, God never makes a mistake. He created all of us in His image,” Carrasco said.
Stanford Spearman, Sr.
A Coffeeville resident, Spearman opened with a prayer and stayed at the podium the longest.
“All of us know what has been going on, there are a lot of injustices in the justice system. But don’t get me wrong, all police are not bad. All white people are not bad. All white people are not good. All police are not good. Saying that, all black people are not good. All black people are not bad,” Spearman said.
He added that his son, a Coffeeville graduate, is attending one of the top colleges in the state, and opportunities are afforded black students.
“I would like to give a hand to all of the white people out here that want justice for our black community, because like I said, everybody is not bad,” Spearman continued.
He also recognized his supporters from Coffeeville, a group of about 20 black men as he noted that decades of brutality on black people has to stop.
“George Floyd is the stopping point,” Spearman continued as he recounted the names of others who had faced racial injustices, even to the point of death, starting with Rodney King.
“It has to stop… this is not just one situation, it just keeps happening and happening, again and again, there is nothing but continuing injustice in the justice system,” Spearman said.
He also noted the movement starts with African Americans.
“This country is set up for us to fail. If Black Lives Matter, it starts with us. They see us every day killing each other,” Spearman added. He also traced decades of history where the system worked against his race.
He ended his speech, stressing that black people must stick together and support each other to be successful.
“It is time to put our resources together, our minds together and build,” he added.