Residents from all walks of life gathered at the Downtown Courthouse in Leesville on Thursday for the Black Lives Matter March and Peaceful Protest. Protesters gathered to call for justice for George Floyd, who was recently murdered by police in Minneapolis. The larger goal of the protest was to call for the end of systemic racism and police brutality in America.
The event was organized by college student Mar’Quan Culbert, and began with a word of prayer. Then an eight-minute moment of silence was held to recognize how long George Floyd laid on the ground with a police officer's knee on the back of his neck before he died. Many people laid on the ground in a show of solidarity.
After the moment of silence Culbert expressed his belief that to make change residents have to be the change.
“Today I came out here, because I want to be the change,” said Culbert. “I want to encourage everybody out there today. When you leave here today, don’t just go home and sit on your couch and post to Facebook. Make a change, be heard, and take action!”
Political leaders, pastors, teachers, lawyers, and police officers were just some of the people present at the protest. One of the passionate speakers, Ne’Andria Hawkins, spoke about the importance of local leaders standing together alongside residents to affect change.
Hawkins said: “If you do not see your police or elected officials standing with you here today, then we change that today. In their silence they uphold tyranny and racism and we won’t stand for it anymore. Let this serve as an official notice to our community. We are tired. Some of us were born tired. We don’t want your handouts. We don’t want your scraps. We want a seat at the table.”
Both Leesville Mayor Rick Allen, and New Llano Mayor Carolyn Todd spoke at the protest. Allen said that he would actively fight against systemic racism, and expressed his pride in community faith leaders for their prayers and leadership during the protests.
Allen said: “I promise you today that I have never, and never will be a part of any racism in this city or this parish. You have my word.”
Todd expressed her faith and desire to see unity not just in Vernon Parish, but across the country. She spoke about how she prays on a daily basis for healing and unity. “I offer up prayer every morning not just for this parish,” she said, “but for the state and our nation. Our hearts need to be changed, and our spirits need to be renewed.”
Todd also called for open communication between residents, the police, and their elected officials so that change could happen. She cited her experience both as the first African American female Mayor of New Llano, as well as her years working for the Vernon Parish Sheriff’s Office.
Leesville native and local attorney Tiffany Ratliff spoke about problems within the legal system that lead to the senseless killing of black people by police officers across the country.
Ratliff said: “I grew up here in Leesville, Louisiana. As a black woman, as an attorney, and as a member of this legal community I can no longer be silent. I studied this. I went to school for this. The numbers are real. The disparity is real. Black people are more likely to be stopped. Black people are more likely to be arrested. Black people are more likely to not be able to bond out because of the wealth disparity. They are also more likely to be killed by the police.”
Her call to action was one that prompted thunderous applause from those in attendance. “There has been a war on poverty,” Ratliff said. “There has been a war on crime. There has been a war on drugs. It is time now for a war on systemic racism.”
Other speakers at the event included local pastors, teachers, and residents who wanted to show their love and support for one another.