Hope and division emerge at Greenwood Black Lives Matter protest
Greenwood Black Lives Matter demonstrators met with parade, counter protest
By Erica Irish
GREENWOOD, Ind. – Demonstrations that are part of the nationwide Black Lives Matter movement continued across Indiana Friday, drawing on residents from all corners of the state to join in a mission to end police brutality against Black men and women.
The wave of protests began after George Floyd, a Black man from Minneapolis, was killed in an arrest after an officer placed a knee on his neck for almost nine minutes. A bystander captured the video of the officer, Derek Chauvin, and three of his colleagues standing watch.
The demonstrations that have emerged since Floyd’s May 25 death have touched large cities, like Indianapolis, and small towns and suburbs alike. For the thousands of protestors that have demonstrated in Indianapolis for more than two consecutive weeks, hundreds have emerged in towns like Avon and Brownsburg on the northside and Greenwood and Franklin to the south. A protest also emerged in Corydon, Indiana’s original capitol.
The Greenwood protest, organized by local young people, saw remarks from concerned citizens, clergy and elected officials from 6 to 8:30 p.m. at the heart of the small city. Around 300 demonstrators came to the event outside the Greenwood Public Library, trying their best to wear masks and keep social distance due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
The group varied in age and race identity, demonstrators said, indicating a new moment of unity in the Indiana suburb. Jeannine Lee Lake, a Democratic candidate in Indiana’s 6th Congressional District running against Republican contender Greg Pence — brother of Vice President and former Indiana Gov. Mike Pence — called the demonstration “a beautiful moment.”
Lake is a Black woman, and spoke from experience about her fears for her children as they live in America and when they encounter police.
“How many mothers here have had to tell your children, when they go out at night time, if they get stopped, please by the grace of God listen to every single word, and listen very intently,” Lake said. “Because if you don’t listen intently, and if you don’t listen to every single thing they’ve asked you to do, you may not come home to me and your dad.”
Kathie Skeel, a 70-year-old Franklin resident, agreed. She said racial justice will only be achieved when white citizens like her speak up. Skeel attended the demonstration with her husband, Brad, and granddaughter.
“I feel very strongly it is past time for white Americans to take a stand in this fight,” Skeel said. “It’s a white person’s problem. We started it.”
But the demonstrations have also brought new light to American division. Near the end of the protest, Black Lives Matter demonstrators were met with a parade of counter protestors. The counter protest arrived as the Black Lives Matter crowd held an extended moment of silence for George Floyd and other Black lives lost to police brutality and racist violence.
Counter protestors speak with Black Lives Matter demonstrators off Madison Avenue in downtown Greenwood Friday.
Jay Hart, a Greenwood resident and former Republican candidate for the Greenwood City Council and Indiana House of Representatives, organized the “All-American Flag Parade” to support law enforcement Friday night, and said in an interview with The Daily Journal it was only a coincidence the two events landed on the same night, at the same location.
A string of trucks and motorcycles drove down Meridian Street, between the demonstrators and Our Lady of Greenwood Catholic Church. Many bore the American flag, and some bore flags supporting President Donald Trump and his “Make America Great Again” campaign.
The parade prompted some Black Lives Matter demonstrators to break the moment of silence. Several raised their fists and shouted “Black Lives Matter” until event organizers asked them to stop, to ignore the counter protestors and continue with the solemn moment.“We are no different than them, and they are no different than us,” said Wil Smiley, 49, a Greenwood resident who joined the American flag parade. He spoke with a small group on Madison Avenue as the Black Lives Matter demonstrators ended the event. “We support them, whether they support us or not.”
But conversations between the groups remained tense. One Black Lives Matter demonstrator approached, videotaping the counter protestors with her phone. She asked why they didn’t care about “human decency,” and why they supported President Trump.
The questions prompted the other group to shout. “Did you hear Trump come out of my mouth?” Smiley asked, as a man behind him raised a Trump flag and another wore a T-shirt with the phrase “Trump That Bitch,” a reference to the 2016 campaign against Democrat Hillary Clinton.
Smiley said the group in the parade wants a dialogue with members of the Black Lives Matter movement, and agree Floyd’s death is an injustice that should be corrected.
“Everybody makes mistakes, but that wasn’t a mistake,” Smiley said. “That was cold-blooded murder and he needed to pay for it.”
One man in the group arrived wearing a cutoff shirt that bore the phrase “white pride.” The Anti-Defamation League, a group that studies extremism in the United States, notes the phrase is a white supremacist slogan.
When the group was asked about the shirt, they denied it was racist. Some shouted “it’s a motorcycle rally.” Another asked, “what’s wrong with that?”
“Why does the race issue have to divide us?” Smiley asked. “That’s what I don’t understand.”
Matthew Smith, a lead organizer for the Black Lives Matter demonstration and former Democratic Greenwood city councilor, watched the counter protestors, and urged those with the Black Lives Matter movement to move back and not engage the group.
“I wish them all the best,” Smith said as the groups parted ways. “I hope that one day they’ll be able to listen to us and be open minded, but today’s not that day. And that’s okay.”
This article originally appeared on TheStatehouseFile.com, a news website powered by Franklin College journalism students.