Morris McFadden couldn’t attend the March for our Freedom protest Saturday, so he decided to start his own.
The 21-year-old UF telecommunications and production senior said he had looked for a protest in Gainesville to participate in for about a week because he felt guilty when he missed the one on Saturday for work. He said he felt torn because he needs money for rent and food, but also wanted to be out demonstrating.
When McFadden couldn’t find anything that had already been organized, he and Daniel Brackett, a 24-year-old UF exercise and sports science senior, took the initiative upon themselves. They planned the protest on Tuesday and started to publicize it over Twitter and Instagram around 4 p.m.
“It’s important to protest because if we sit at home and say nothing we will never, ever be heard,” McFadden said.
About 150 people gathered on the corner of University Avenue and 13th Street on Wednesday at 11 a.m. to protest police brutality and the killing of George Floyd by ex-Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin. Most wore masks to limit the spread of COVID-19, and many carried signs.
This protest was one of a wave of protests across the nation in the last week.
The event remained peaceful. Protesters sweat in the humidity as they walked from University Avenue to Gale Lemerand Drive and back, some stopping occasionally for a water break or to breathe without their mask. They waved signs and chanted messages like, “No justice, no peace, no racist police,” and “Black Lives Matter.”
Innocent people are dying, Brackett said. Fathers and grandfathers are being murdered at the hands of law enforcement, he said, and people need to fight against that.
“We have to suffer,” he said. “We have to hurt because that’s our community. And nothing’s being done.”
Cars honked in support of the protesters, with some people cheering and hanging out of their windows, holding up fists and toting their own signs. Brackett held a megaphone for almost the entire protest and led most of the chants.
He encouraged people to sign petitions and donate to organizations fighting racism and police brutality.
In the midst of a pandemic, protesting in large crowds defies CDC guidelines to social distance. McFadden said that those who couldn’t be at the protest because of safety concerns or other conflicts can still be engaged by spreading awareness and having conversations with friends that are people of color about their experiences with racism.
McFadden said that white people can help by being advocates for the cause.
“They can use their privilege and platform to stand with us, protect us, and make our voices louder, not speak for us, but amplify our voices,” he said.
Some protesters borrowed the megaphone to share their thoughts and stories dealing with racism. Dee Williams, 31, said he has had negative experiences with law enforcement because he is black.
Two years ago, he left a party and was walking to Waffle House when a police car stopped him and flashed its lights. The officer got out of the car and pointed a gun at him while asking him questions. He said the official was determining if Williams fit a description for a suspect.
“At this moment I’m just standing still because I’m not trying to make any sudden moves, I’m not trying to cause anything crazy,” Williams said.
Six cruisers soon arrived on the scene. People outside the Waffle House began to record the incident, he said, out of concern it would escalate. After interrogating him for twenty minutes, law enforcement realized Williams was not the suspect and left. Williams ordered food from Waffle House and didn’t pursue the events further.
“If it wasn’t for me just standing there still, who knows what could have happened,” he said.
Williams told the crowd he thinks if he responded differently that day, he could have been killed like George Floyd, and not been there for his daughter.
The message behind this protest isn’t new, said 21-year-old UF English senior Dante Watson. It’s taken years for people to realize that former NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick did the right thing when he kneeled during the national anthem, he said.
“Now that some people have turned to violence, everyone is focused on the violence and not what we have tried to do in the past in order to achieve the equality that we’ve been wanting for the past 600 or so years,” he said. “So I’m here today to fight for that.”