LaBelle - The first of a series of marches being held in Hendry County, the Peaceful March for Justice had nearly 200 participants on Saturday, June 13, 2020. The large group gathered at the corner of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Blvd. and marched to the Hendry County Courthouse. Calling for an end to racism and police violence, and justice for victims and their families, protesters wore facial coverings and worked to stay safe distances to prevent the spread of COVID-19. Some even wore masks with a message, like “BLM” or “silence is complicity” and many others held signs and banners.
Rev. Gwen Patrick Griffiths and Laura Novosad, officers of the Hendry County Democratic Women’s Club, held a large banner that read “Love is the answer”. Other signs had messages like: “All lives will matter when black lives matter”, “Silence is violence”, “George Floyd lives within us”, and “United against facism and hate” to name just a few. Paul Samerdyke was seen standing with protesters in solidarity.
“Enough is enough. We are marching to shed light on a solvable problem that needs to change now. With proper vetting of, and extensive de-escalation training for, law enforcement officers, as well as use of proper mental health agencies, excessive force does not need to happen- and in fact, should not. Not ever,” said Rahsaan Miller. “Defunding the police isn’t exactly the right term, as it causes so many misconceptions.”
“Yes! It’s important to make sure people understand that we are not protesting because we are anti-law enforcement, as it’s often made out that way, We are anti-racism, we are anti-injustice, we are anti-abuse of power, but we are very much pro-police,” Rahsaan’s wife, Nyeshia Miller, explained.
The Hendry County Sheriff’s Office assigned deputies to protect the participants, directing traffic at each intersection as they traveled through town. The deputies even handed out ice cold water, apples, and oranges to the marchers. The march was peaceful, except for one small incident of a white SUV barreling though an intersection during the march, the event was held without incident. A deputy quickly chased after and pulled over that vehicle.
As for counter protesters, aside from a man on a bike yelling for people to “go home” there was nothing notable. A number of local veterans gathered at the nearby Veteran’s Memorial Park, offering ice cold water to passers by.
The event ended with the crowd taking a knee for 8 minutes and 46 seconds, in honor and memory of George Floyd, and to demonstrate the amount of time the Minneapolis Police Officer had kneeled on his neck, causing his death.
The march was organized by Christina DeVault and Jennifer Wingard, local supermoms-turned-activists, in response to the injustices seen both locally and nationally. Marches have been planned for every Saturday from 8:00 a.m. to 10:00 a.m. This Saturday’s march, June 20, will begin with a prayer and moment of silence in honor of Julian Keen led by ShaRoddra Gregory. Organizers invite peaceful participants to come with their “hearts full of love”.