LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) — Hundreds of people in Harrison — a town that has struggled to shake a reputation of being bigoted — and across Arkansas gathered to protest the killing of George Floyd, a black man whose death in Minneapolis has sparked a national movement against racism and police brutality.
The protest on Thursday in downtown Harrison drew about 300 people who chanted, “Silence is violence,” “Equality is justice” and “I can’t breathe.”
Nearly 15 people, some armed with assault-style rifles, stood across the street, where American and Confederate flags were flying.
Floyd died May 25 after a white police officer pressed his knee into handcuffed man’s neck for several minutes even after he stopped moving and pleading for air.
Protester Kevin Cheri told the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette that he was moved by the demonstration in Harrison because he saw people’s faces as they cheered for change and in support of racial equality.
“To see this happen now, as a black man within this community, I’m proud of them,” said Cheri, who is a retired superintendent of the Buffalo National River. “I’m proud that they are willing to show themselves as being actively supportive of change in this country.”
Harrison’s population of 12,949 is less than 1% black, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.
In the early 1900s, riots drove out most residents who were black. More recently, billboards occasionally have appeared promoting a white pride website or with white supremacist messages such as, “Anti-racist is a code word for anti-white.” City leaders insist Harrison’s reputation is being unfairly tarnished by a small group of people and have posted “Love Your Neighbor” billboards in response to the racist signs.
“I wanted to do this in honor of George Floyd,” said Daniella Scott, the protest organizer. “Every other place has been having protests around the country and around the world.”
In Cabot, about 300 protesters, mostly white, marched for about 7 miles as police officers accompanied them.
Some demonstrators in Fort Smith carried signs that said, “Black lives matter more than white feelings,” “Being black is not a crime” and “Your silence speaks volumes.” The diverse crowd of about 200 people was also supported by the city’s police force.
Meanwhile in Pine Bluff, nearly 300 people remained in their vehicles near downtown to hold what organizers called a solidarity rally. Deltaplex Radio broadcast the rally live.
“We wanted a peaceful rally because we are adamant about standing in solidarity with our brothers and sisters across the nation who are fighting for social justice and equity,” said Kymara Seals, an organizer.
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