Scottie Lewis, a member of the UF’s men's basketball team, told more than 200 protesters Friday evening about his fear of being a victim of police brutality as a Black man.
“I'm afraid one day my mom will receive a call that her son was killed or beaten for nothing he did wrong, but because of how society sees him,“ the 20-year-old telecommunication and political science sophomore said.
More than 200 masked people gathered Friday evening at the intersection of University Avenue and 13th Street and marched downtown to Bo Diddley Community Plaza to protest the shooting of 29-year-old Jacob Blake, a Black man shot by police while entering his car after he was tased.
Gainesville demonstrators crowded into the corner under an archway and chanted as cars stopped at red lights and continued on. Some commuters raised a fist out of their window, while others shouted at the protesters.
Scottie wasn’t the only student athlete at the protest. Members of UF’s men and women basketball, football and gymnastics teams were in attendance. Head Football Coach Dan Mullen also marched.
The demonstration also occurred on the 57th anniversary of the March on Washington, where thousands gathered to demand civil rights for Black Americans and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. delivered his well-known “I Have a Dream” speech. The Gainesville protest was one of several nationally held on the anniversary, including a gathering of more than 1,000 people in Washington D.C.
While 15 to 20 people usually attended summer protests organized by Gainesville for Social Justice, Friday evening’s demonstration was the first large one as UF students are returning to campus for the Fall, said Amanda Lewis, an administrator for the group that organized up the event.
The local group, made up of more than 1,000 members, organized more than 15 protests this summer, said Amanda Lewis, who is also a 27-year-old UF criminology, law and society doctoral student. Previous events ran alongside national ones after the death of George Floyd, a 46-year-old Black man murdered by a Minneapolis police officer on May 25.
The protest was the most recent in a string of weekly local Black Lives Matter demonstrations starting at 5 p.m. focused on police brutality against people of color.
During Friday's protest, Scottie Lewis, said the goals set forth in King's speech haven’t yet been achieved.
“The fact we are still trying to fight for that dream to become a reality is crazy,” he said.
The protest began at around 6:15 p.m. Protesters carried cardboards with phrases like “Black Lives Matter,” and “No Justice, No Peace” etched on their surfaces with sharpies or brushed on with paint. The Florida seal on the pavement outside heavener hall was decorated with candles and flowers.
Chants including “Say his name: Jacob Blake” engulfed University Avenue as protesters blocked the eastward right lane. Gainesville Police cars followed behind as some passing cars honked in support. Some onlookers hurled insults at the protesters, but they marched on, raising the volume of their chants to block out the heckles.
Blake was left paralyzed from the waist down after being shot in the back four times by a police officer Rusten Sheskey in Kenosha, Wisconsin, Sunday. Blake is alive but paralyzed from the waist down and still hospitalized, according to his father, Jacob Blake Sr.
Scottie led marchers during the protest. He told The Alligator he was there to raise awareness about systemic racism.
“There is a lot of people who don’t believe what is going on is actually happening,“ he said.
This protest wasn't his first. Scottie said he organized protests this summer in areas around his hometown, Bronx, New York. To Scottie, attending and running protests allows him to be an advocate for the unheard.
Athletes should play a part in sparking political change because they have one of the strongest combined voices in the country because of their large social media presence, Scottie said. They can use this platform to speak out against injustice, he added.
“People forget we were people before we were players,” he said. “We have experiences people think we didn’t have to go through because of who we are.”
Alex Magee, an 18-year-old UF exploratory engineering freshman and gymnast, marched alongside other athletes who came out after receiving an email from UFs Black Student Athlete Council.
She joined the protest because she, her younger brother, 16-year-old Macaire Magee, and father, 56-year-old Micael Magee, could be victims of police brutality because they’re Black, she said.
“We shouldn’t have to be begging people to treat us fairly or equally,” she said.
When the crowd arrived at Bo Diddley Plaza, they held an 8-minutes-and-46-second long moment of silence in honor of George Floyd. Most protesters sat down, some bowed their heads. The only noise in the plaza was made by leaves rustling in the wind and cars passing by.
“We are asking to be seen as people,” Scottie Lewis told the crowd after the moment of silence. The crowd then marched back to the intersection, and the chants slowly faded.