Protesters fight back against Huntsville police’s attempt to deter them

Lavette Williams, Editor-in-Chief

Since the death of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and many other African Americans who lost their lives due to institutional racism, people from all over the world have been protesting to end police brutality, to remove confederate statues and to raise awareness of the unjust treatment against people of color. 

According to the New York Times, four recent polls suggest that about 15 to 26 million people in the United States have participated in demonstrations.

“We are all upset and that is why we are protesting,” said Trevor Kiddy, a senior at the University of North Alabama.

Kiddy said that even though the Black Lives Matter Movement may have been revolutionized by George Floyd, this has been going on for decades and many, including him, want reform. 

“I stand with the black community,” Kiddy said. “They have the right to not have to live in fear; they have the right to be angry. Their tax dollars fund the police and in return, they are being shot and their children are being murdered.”

Kiddy was one of many to attend the protest in downtown Huntsville June 1, which ended just before 8 p.m. when police fired tear gas in an attempt to disperse the crowd. Kiddy was there as both an ally and a photographer, capturing the event through the lens of his camera.  

“It wasn’t right that the police did that to a group of peaceful protestors,” Kiddy said. “After seeing the one-sided war scene, I better understand the struggles the black community deal with every day when dealing with the police. The south is still defending its way of life almost 200 years later.”  

Hosted by the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), the protest began peacefully with several speakers, a march around the courthouse, and a moment of silence in remembrance of George Floyd.

Kasmine Roach, a resident of Rogersville, said that she went to the protest with her friend.

“We were all in Big Spring Park listening to the speakers,” Roach said. “Everything was amazing. The unity was a beautiful thing. Then, we began marching and all hell broke loose.”

Roach said she could tell that the police were “pissed,” but what set them off was when a group of protesters started yelling Dana Fletcher’s name.

Dana Fletcher was a 39-year-old black man, who was shot and killed outside of Planet Fitness by Madison police in October.   

“Eventually, a police officer came out and started shouting that we had 30 seconds to disperse [even though] it was only 7 p.m.,” Roach said. “The police decided to end the protest early. They started to put their gas masks on and started to push us out of the streets. [They] were out there cursing at us and mocking us.”

Roach said that the scariest moment for her was when she noticed police officers on the top of roofs with their guns. Roach admitted she was so scared for her life that a group of white people, who she did not know, had to shield and help her walk to her car.

“The whole night felt like a nightmare,” Roach said. “Why Huntsville Police Department? Why would you come to a protest against police brutality and brutalize the protestors?”

UNA junior Miranda Murray shared a similar experience of confusion and horror that took place that night.

Murray said that moments before 8 p.m., when the demonstrators understood their permit to expire, police began firing tear gas into the remaining crowd of protestors and shortly after, began to use rubber bullets, pepper spray and bodily violence.

“I was with one of the last groups to escape down the stairs in Big Spring Park,” Murray said. “As we stopped running, we were trailed by people who had been targeted with tear gas and pepper spray. Those of us who had any emergency medical training attempted to give aid to the injured while trying to find our own friends. I flushed the eyes of everyone who I passed who had been impacted by the chemicals.”

Murray said that the police did not protect them. They protected themselves. She was offered free water to flush her eyes out, medical supplies to aid other demonstrators and a route home that avoided police interference.

“The police were there to harm us,” Murray said. “They were not there to protect us.”

Ally White, a student at Northwest Community College, knows first-hand of what it is like to be sprayed with pepper spray. Separated from her friend, Murray, White was sprayed while trying to keep another protester safe.

White said she thinks the police were on a power trip because they felt that the protestors were a threat even though no one who attended was armed.

“It made it very hard to breathe for a couple of days and my face [was] super tender,” White said when asked about how the pepper spray affected her.

Since the protest, Huntsville City Council Officials have been meeting regularly to discuss ways on how to resolve the conflict between the citizens of Huntsville and its police.

Many people within the community attend these meetings, using their three uninterrupted minutes to voice their concerns on the police brutality that took place at the protest, to Huntsville Mayor Tommy Battle backlash for not taking action sooner and to demand for better police transparency.

Battle said that he and the council are giving citizens an opportunity to express their opinions. He called one of the meetings a “listening session.”

“We’re all here for one thing,” Battle said in the meeting on June 25. “We’re here for a better Huntsville, a better police force, a better group. We will be working towards that goal. On [July 29], we would like to, number one, make sure everybody knows what we do as a police force, how we do our hiring, our training, what our standard operating procedures are and how we act as a police force. Number two, we want to talk about the ‘way forward,’ [which] talks about new procedures, new police standards and things that have been brought forward to us.”

Until the protest that ended in tear gas and rubber bullets is addressed, until confederate statues are taken down, until racism is gone, the black lives matter movement does not seem to be going anywhere. Although it is apparent that police can disperse a protest, they cannot disperse an entire movement.

Roach said that she believes that this is only the beginning.

“We have not reaped the full advantages that black people before us have fought for,” Roach said. “We are sick of it. Either they can continue marginalizing, ignoring and treating our people like second-hand citizens or they can right their wrongs, change laws and policies and finally do what is right for our people.”