OKEECHOBEE — A peaceful protest in honor of George Floyd was held in Okeechobee on June 1 in Flagler Park. Throughout the few hours of the protest, around 70 people came in and out, holding signs that read “Black Lives Matter,” “I can’t breathe” and “Christ and racism don’t mix.”
Supporters driving past honked horns and waved. The reaction from the community has been mostly positive, but there were still some who voiced their displeasure at the sight of the protest.
Okeechobee resident Amber Sewell was out a day earlier on May 31 holding signs in a smaller protest that only a few attended.
“They were really mean yesterday,” said Ms. Sewell. “We had a few people drive by and throw the n-word at us. Other than that, not too bad. Just a few ignorant people.”
Ms. Sewell wanted to set an example of how to peacefully protest to her son after he watched footage of other protests around the country. So she put together a few signs with her mother and headed to Flagler Park.
Jersey Mike’s brought out soda and water to those in attendance, and another Okeechobee resident dropped off a case of water. Black Bull Media owner Daniel Kidd attended the protest on June 1 and singled out Okeechobee Sheriff Noel Stephen for providing a safe atmosphere for people to voice their opinions.
“I want to personally thank our local police officers and Noel Stephen for giving our community a safe place to express our hearts and be heard while showing the world how to do it the right way,” said Mr. Kidd in a post after the protest. “We received tons of love from individuals in the community and also some hate and racial slurs from others. And I understand that comes with the territory.”
Ms. Sewell addressed comments she’s received about having the protest, specifically such as, “Why even have one if you didn’t personally know George Floyd?”
“Does it have to be my nephew?” asked Ms. Sewell. “Do I have to wait until it’s my nephew to say this matters? I would want someone to do the same for me.”
The sight of the protest caused some residents to post misinformation on social media, which spread like wildfire.
“Apparently the coast is coming to Okeechobee tonight to participate in a violent protest,” read one post written in all capital letters with nearly 100 shares on Facebook. “I’d hate to show them how country people survive.”
People who shared the status added their own commentary such as “locked and loaded” and “I’m prepared.”
“There’s nothing negative about what we’re doing,” said Okeechobee resident Kevin Boswell who attended the gathering. “I want to let the people of Okeechobee know that there is nothing negative in what we’re trying to do. And if anyone comes behind us and tries to do anything we’re going to get them out of there. You’re not going to come and turn this into something negative when we’re trying to do it the right way.”
The panicky social media fear of the moms, grandmas and kids in attendance at the protest proved to be unfounded, however.
“We want Okeechobee to be known as positive,” concluded Ms. Sewell. “We don’t want to be like West Palm or Fort Pierce; that’s just not healthy. What happened to George is horrible, but we can fix it the right way. It may take time. It won’t happen overnight. But it’s the right way.”