Shouting “No justice, no peace,” around 200 protesters marched around Liberty City Hall and the Liberty County Courthouse on Saturday. In the aftermath of the death of George Floyd, the Houston native who died in police custody in Minneapolis, the Black Lives Matter rally was organized by Michael Mark, chairman of the Liberty County Democratic Party.
In his remarks to the crowd, Mark said, “We are here today because we are going to speak for those who can no longer speak for themselves. We are going to march for those who can no longer march for themselves. We are here because of George Floyd. We are here because of Breonna Taylor. We are here because of Ahmaud Arbery. We are here because of Alton Sterling. We are here because of Philando Castile.”
Of those mentioned, all but Ahmaud Arbery were either killed by police or died in police custody. On Feb. 23, 2020, Arbery was killed after being chased by two armed white men who have since been charged with his murder. On March 13, 2020, Taylor died while police were executing a no-knock warrant at her house in Louisville, Ky. Sterling was killed on July 5, 2016, by two Baton Rouge Police Department officers during an arrest. Castile was fatally shot during a traffic stop on July 6, 2016, in St. Anthony, Minn.
“Basically we are here to say we are tired of black people being killed and murdered, dying in police custody, dying because of racial violence. We are going to stand up today and say that it is not okay,” Mark said. “We are going to stand up today and say to the United States of America that this is going to end today.”
Mark called on the protesters to peacefully stand up when they see or experience racism.
“Call it out forcefully. If you are white and you are with a bunch of white people and they start telling racist jokes, call it out. Embarrass them. If you are African-American and you hear people disrespect you or make jokes about black people, call it out. Tell them you are not going to stand for it and take it,” he said.
The Black Lives Matter protest was held on the grounds of the Daniel Pavilion outside Liberty City Hall and Mayor Carl Pickett was on hand to welcome them to peacefully assemble.
“We want you to be able to feel safe and comfortable expressing yourself, being very vocal and candid, and letting us know what’s on your mind. You will see some City of Liberty policemen here. They are here to be facilitators, not intimidators. I would ask that you view them in that light. They want to be friendly, courteous and helpful,” Pickett said.
He reminded the crowd that peacefully protesting is a right of any American – a right protected by the First Amendment of the Constitution.
“The First Amendment guarantees freedom of speech, freedom of the press and the right of people to congregate peacefully. It also allows us to petition the government for redress of grievances. All of you folks are taking advantage of this right today,” Pickett said. “You have the ability to voice your opinions and go forward in pursuing objectives that will make the United States a better place. I hope you find Liberty a hospitable place to congregate and carry on this event in a peaceful and productive manner.”
The protesters then marched around city hall and the Liberty County Courthouse before gathering at the pavilion for closing prayers, comments from Rashad Lewis, the Democratic candidate for U.S. Representative for Congressional District 36, and a candlelight ceremony.
For the candlelight vigil, everyone could do so knelt down in silence and reflection for eight minutes and 46 seconds, the amount of time that the Minneapolis police officer knelt on the neck of George Floyd, reportedly causing injuries that led to his death.
Rev. Dwight Pruitt, pastor of St. Miles Baptist Church of Liberty, said he was optimistic about the Black Lives Matter movement actually achieving its goal of reforming policies and addressing racism.
“I was looking at the news the other night and there was a Black Lives Matter rally in Vidor, Texas,” Pruitt said. Vidor, Texas, is an east Texas city that has the unfortunate distinction of being linked to the Ku Klux Klan historically.
Pruitt said the reform must go behind changing police policies. It must extend into the court system so that black people get fair and equal treatment from judges and prosecutors.
“We need to let these judges know we are tired of 45-50-year sentences for our folks. This is just the beginning. I am glad to see this. This is what we are going to do. We are going to continue to rally. We are going to let them know we stand for real change this time with the system,” Pruitt said.
The change, he said, will require black people to register to vote and then show up on election days.
That message was echoed by Mark, who pointed unregistered voters to a nearby table where they could pick up voter registration forms.
“If you are not registered to vote, I want you to register and vote in November. If you are registered to vote, I want you to vote in November. I want you to let commissioners court, the governor and the president know that black lives matter,” he said.