Enough is enough — the people who gathered Tuesday in Greenwood to protest in solidarity with so many others across the country made their message clear: They’re demanding justice and fair treatment for people of color.
The Greenwood chapter of Black Lives Matter organized a protest at 4 p.m. Tuesday at the fountain in Uptown. The group’s co-founder Travis Greene said a protest is a way to give the many people who are afraid to speak or whose voices often go unheard the chance to amplify their voices through the group.
In the wake of a Minneapolis police officer’s killing of George Floyd, people have organized protests across the country. The main goal, Greene said, was to get law enforcement to understand that people of color aren’t inherently criminals. He said many black people are treated like suspects or criminals on sight by law enforcement, and the culture needs to change.
“We shouldn’t be at the point where what happened in Minnesota can happen,” said Terry Hawkins Jr., who came out to join the protest. “I have two nephews, one is 7 and the other is 15. I’m having to explain to a 7-year-old and a 15-year-old that this is what the world has to offer, but we’ve got to rise above it.”
It’s a concern shared by Dr. Jimmell Felder, a pediatrician who came out because she wants to change America into a better place for children to live. She said she is beyond tired of African Americans having to fight for fair treatment, something she said she’s done her whole career.
“I feel that it’s important we change racism for this next generation,” she said. “It’s small-town America, it’s big-city America. Injustice is injustice anywhere.”
Bruce Wilson, a Greenville-based activist and founder of the group Fighting Injustice Together, rallied the crowd over a megaphone, decrying the absence of elected officials at the protest. He said city and county officials need to be at these events because it’s their job to listen to the will of the people and respond. Greenwood Police Chief Gerald Brooks and Greenwood County Sheriff Dennis Kelly were there, and both took questions from the crowd, but many people were unsatisfied with what they had to say.
When asked what reforms Brooks would put in place at the police department, he said “I believe we’re doing a good job, so I don’t have any reforms planned.” People in the crowd cited problems they’ve had with specific officers, and many raised the issue of a Greenwood police officer shooting and killing 60-year-old Willie Quarles Sr., who police said shot an officer who was responding to a domestic dispute call at Quarles’ residence.
At one point, Wilson told the crowd it’s a matter of perspective and privilege. He said Brooks doesn’t get afraid when he sees a police car in his rear-view mirror. Wilson said Brooks doesn’t have to explain to his children the dangers of being killed by officers for wearing a hoodie or looking a certain way.
“When I was a child, my mom used to teach me to run to the police,” Wilson said. “Now I have to teach my son to run from the police.”
Derrick Quarles, founder of the Upstate chapter of Black Lives Matter, urged the crowd to enact change themselves and not wait for officials to make moves for them. If Greenwood City Council votes down the notion of having a citizen’s review board to look into complaints of police misconduct, then Quarles said people need to go to city council meetings, call their council members and visit them in person and explain why it’s wanted. And if they don’t listen, Quarles said to vote them out of office by running against them.
The initial march took the group from the Uptown fountain along South Main Street a few blocks, then back. Along the way, volunteers from the Episcopal Church of the Resurrection handed out cold water bottles to the protesters.
“As people of faith, we want all voices to be heard,” said the Rev. Mary Balfour Dunlap. “Especially our brothers and sisters who are black, during this time. We want them to know they are loved.”
The marchers continued, winding through the streets around Uptown and stopping occasionally to speak some more by the fountains. Passing cars honked and drivers stuck their fists out through their windows in solidarity — others revved engines loudly in what the crowd took as disdain. Police cars moved to block traffic so the protesters could march the streets.
As the crowd passed the sheriff’s office and jail along Edgefield Street, a deputy could be seen walking the roof of the sheriff’s office with a rifle in hand. The entrance to the office had a barricade up and a sign saying no one could pass further without risking prosecution. When the crowd chanted alongside the jail, the sound of banging against the walls could be heard as people incarcerated responded to the chants.
At the end, Quarles reminded people that few of their elected officials were seen during the day’s protests. He urged the crowd to call the city manager’s office and ask when city council next meets. He encouraged people to speak at meetings, run for office and unseat government officials who don’t listen to their complaints.
“It can’t be business as usual until you get a sheriff who cares, a police chief who cares and a city council that cares,” he said.