CLEWISTON — The social media post promoting a June 3 Black Lives Matter protest at the Clewiston Walmart was a fake, according to Janet Taylor of Glades Lives Matter.
She said no one in her organization knew anything about it until Hendry County Sheriff Steve Whidden posted a message on social media on Tuesday, June 2, about a curfew due to the planned protest.
“That’s the only way we knew about this thing was when the sheriff put out that post,” she explained. “Nobody in our community knew anything about it.” She said those in the official Black Lives Matter movement were also unaware of it.
“When I saw the post the first thing I did was to call people in Tallahassee,” she said. “All of it came back that it was 100 percent a fake page.”
Mrs. Taylor said Glades Lives Matter had already decided against a public protest in Hendry County due to concerns about the potential spread of the COVID-19 virus in large gatherings. But if they had organized a protest, they would have first contacted the city police and the county sheriff’s department and then contacted the city or the county for a permit (depending on the desired location of the protest). She added they would not plan a protest for a shopping center parking lot.
“When the sheriff put that out, that was the first we heard of it, that’s the first the city officials heard of it,” Mrs. Taylor explained. She said she has been in contact with ministers and other community leaders and no one was contacted by the Black Lives Matter organization.
“Black Lives Matter is a national movement, and I do believe if they were coming to anybody’s town they would contact some of the local people in that town,” she said. “Why would an organization as big as that come to a town and not engage the local people?”
“Glades Lives Matter does a lot in the community,” she said. “I believe if anybody was coming, they would have called us.”
Mrs. Taylor said her group quickly got the word out to the Clewiston community through their own social media channels, as well as a sign at the entrance to Harlem.
“We sent messages to our local people — do not be a part of us,” she said. “It’s a fake page. We tried to get every way possible to warn our community please stay home.” She said they had more than 100 people involved in posting messages on social media.
“Everybody seemed to think it was a political move,” she said. “It’s too turbulent of time to be doing anything that is not a necessity.”
Mrs. Taylor said a Fox News report tried to spin the story that the protest did not happen because of the law enforcement presence at the shopping center. “The truth is it did not happen because it was never planned to happen,” she said. She said the people interviewed for the Fox News segment weren’t from Clewiston. She added that after watching the news program, she has been trying to find out who they are.
She said she did appreciate the law enforcement officers who came to her house and said, “We heard you were planning a peaceful protest and we are here to support you.” She said she appreciated their concern and support, but “if I had planned a rally, the first two people I would have called are the police chief and the sheriff.”
Mrs. Taylor, who is a retired police officer, said she has close ties to law enforcement and she appreciated the gesture. “When they come to you personally and make it personal, it really makes a difference.”
Mrs. Taylor said had the situation been different, they might have organized a rally or protest. “We wouldn’t do anything at this time with COVID-19. That is putting our lives in danger,” she explained. The COVID-19 positive numbers in Clewiston increase daily, she noted. “Why would we put our people in danger? If COVID-19 had not been in play right now we would have had our people protest, but we just can’t afford it right now.”
Mrs. Taylor said the churches are promoting safety, asking everyone to follow the Centers for Disease Control recommendations to avoid large public gatherings, wear cloth masks in public, maintain 6 feet of social distancing space, washing hands frequently and throughly and disinfecting surfaces. She said they are reminding the young people “don’t go out and bring it back to the elderly people at home.”
Mrs. Taylor, who chairs the board for Florida Community Health Center, said the availability of testing has increased and they are encouraging everyone to be tested for COVID-19. She said they are making tests available at food distribution events.
“We did a food giveaway last Wednesday at John Boy Auditorium. We did 198 tests that day,” she said. “On Friday, we will be in Pahokee; next Wednesday we will do Montura.”
Fortunately, the curfew did not put a damper on Clewiston High School’s Baccalaureate Service on Wednesday evening. She said when she learned of the curfew, she spoke to the sheriff about that, and was assured it would go on as planned.
“It feels like we’re in two pandemics at the same time,” she said. “All over the country, people are protesting for the injustice that is being done.”
Glades Lives Matter has been active in the conversation about police issues with elected officials. On Wednesday, Mrs. Taylor said she was on conference calls with U.S. Reps. Alcee L. Hastings (D-FL), Lois Frankel (D-FL) and Ted Deutch (D-FL), as well as the state attorney, county commissioners and law enforcement officials. “We talked about racial injustice and the things we can to do address it,” she explained. One topic was the hiring process and standards for law enforcement officers.
“The most amazing thing that was said to me was by a doctor who told me you have officers who have PTSD and working on the police force. How can you have that?” she asked.
She said they talked about nationwide standards for law enforcement officers, as well as the need to offer appropriate salary levels to attract more candidates and more educated candidates. “I was so glad because now they are trying to be proactive and not reactive,” Mrs. Taylor said.