‘No justice, no peace!’ Residents rally to support ‘Black Lives Matter’ movement

Editor, staff writer

    Area residents gathered at the Adams County Courthouse Thursday in a show of support for the “Black Lives Matter” movement in the wake of George Floyd’s untimely death at the hands of a Minneapolis police officer.
    Unlike many other demonstrations that have taken place throughout the nation — many of which turned to violence, looting and riots — Thursday’s protest in downtown Decatur was peaceful and took place without incident.
    Where other cities saw police in riot gear and protestors faced tear gas and rubber bullets, here in Decatur people of all ages mingled together with no uniformed police in sight, although officers were nearby observing the situation to ensure everyone’s safety. A drone hovered over the crowd, monitoring for disruptions, while civilian observers gathered across the street to watch the chants from afar.
    The organizers of Decatur’s Black Lives Matter protests were four young Bellmont students, including recent graduates Lydia Roop and Kassi Hirn and soon-to-be juniors Isaac Knudsen and Nick Bonifas.
    The protest kicked off with a group prayer led by Father David Ruppert and Seminarian Stephen Horton of St. Mary of the Assumption Catholic Church, who both remained with the crowd in their black vestments under the hot sun. Three coolers full of bottled water offered some relief to protestors throughout the 80-degree day, and a bottle of spray sunscreen rested on a foldout table where visitors could also make their own signs.
    Although chants rang out through the protest — along with raucous cheers whenever passing drivers honked in support — no speeches were given, with Roop explaining, “We felt it was important to use our white voices to support this movement since we don’t have a large black community, but just being present and lending our support is where it stops. We didn’t feel like our voices should be front and center as white people.”
    The youngest protestors gathered at the front of the courthouse lawn for the most part, directing their signs at passersby and lending their voices to chants. Older protestors largely kept to the back, watching the younger generation with pride and occasionally circling around to talk with old acquaintances and meet new friends.
    Among these was Decatur Mayor Dan Rickord, who called no attention to himself as he attended the protest, preferring to silently lend his support to the teens and young adults who organized it.  

    Demonstrations across the U.S. to condemn racism and police abuses remained large, but mostly without the violence of previous nights. The calmer protests followed a decision by prosecutors to charge three more police officers and file a new, tougher charge against the officer at the center of the case.
    Minneapolis Police officer Derek Chauvin, who was caught on video pressing his knee to Floyd's neck, was charged Wednesday with second-degree murder. Three other officers at the scene have also been charged with aiding and abetting second-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter.
    Chauvin was initially charged with third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter, counts that still stand.
    The new second-degree murder charge alleges that Chauvin caused Floyd's death without intent while committing another felony, namely third-degree assault. It carries a maximum penalty of 40 years in prison, compared with a maximum of 25 years for third-degree murder.
    The Hennepin County Medical Examiner's Office released the full autopsy report on Floyd  — with the family’s permission — which noted he previously tested positive for COVID-19, but was apparently asymptomatic. A summary said Floyd suffered a heart attack while being restrained.
    The other officers — Thomas Lane, J. Kueng and Tou Thao — face the same maximum penalties for aiding and abetting. All three were in custody by Wednesday evening. The multiple charges against each officer would offer a jury more options to find them guilty.
    If convicted, they could be sentenced to up to four decades in prison.
    The new charges come on the heels of largely peaceful protests in communities of all sizes; however, some were rocked by bouts of violence, including deadly attacks on officers, rampant thefts and arson in some places. In Minneapolis, more than 220 buildings were damaged or burned, with property damage topping $55 million, city officials said.
    Nationwide, more than 10,000 people have been arrested in connection with unrest, according to the Associated Press. More than a dozen deaths have been reported, though the circumstances in many cases are still under investigation.
    Some demonstrators lay down to represent the amount of time a white police officer pressed a knee into Floyd's neck while he pleaded for air.