A thousand gather for peaceful march in Punta Gorda
The first time Jasmine Joyner experienced racism was shortly after she moved to Port Charlotte as a 12-year-old.
She was walking home with friends when kids on a bus called her a “stupid n—-r.”
Joyner at the time didn’t know what the word meant, and had to ask her parents.
Now, 19 years later, Joyner walked with her two 7-year-old twin boys, Jayden and Jackson, along with hundreds of protesters, at the Black Lives Matter march in Punta Gorda on Friday evening.
“We’re in the second wind of the civil rights movement,” she said. “To be honest, I didn’t think I was ever going to see something like this in my life.”
The protest had “easily a thousand people,” according to organizer Carson McNamara. Marchers chanted “No justice, no peace,” “Say their names, make them heroes” and “Black Lives Matter” as they walked peacefully from Laishley Park to Punta Gorda City Hall.
There is an additional march scheduled for 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. Friday, June 12, which organizers say will have more speakers and opportunities to register to vote.
“We’re not here to cause a riot. We are here to start a revolution,” said McNamara prior to the march. “We do not want to be divided. In fact, we would rather be united.
“But we will not stand by and be neglected any further. Here and now is when we put the pressure on public officials, on the police, and on our local and national government to make a change. Why is it that the Punta Gorda Police Department is just now getting body cameras? And why is Charlotte County barely making the attempt?”
“Sheriff (Bill) Prummell said if you need a camera to trust your officers, they shouldn’t be here,” McNamara continued. “Well then, what are we doing to make sure they are trustworthy? Where is the in-depth, de-escalation and racial sensitivity training? How are we checking the biases of the officers?”
Port Charlotte resident Erica Smalls described the event as “positively overwhelming.”
“I’m amazed at the amount of people who came out to support this tonight,” Smalls said, on the brink of tears. “We have to stop the ignorance. … We have to move forward. Equality for all.”
Smalls, a mother of three mixed-race children, said she felt honored and happy to be a part of the march.
“We are making history here today,” she said. “Every single one of us are a part of history in the making.”
Once protesters reached Punta Gorda City Hall, they were asked to kneel for 9 minutes in remembrance of George Floyd, who died under the knee of a former Minneapolis police officer. Punta Gorda Police Chief Pamela Davis and Charlotte County Sheriff Bill Prummell both knelt and marched with protesters.
“We are forming a new path forward,” said Allen Ellison, a Democratic candidate running for the U.S. House of Representatives District 17 seat. “We will not be silent anymore.”
Protesters then sang happy birthday to Breonna Taylor, an unarmed black woman who was fatally shot by police in early March, and who would’ve turned 27 Friday.
North Port resident Ankit Patel brought his 9-year-old son to the event. “I want to show him that change is coming,” Patel said. “I want him to understand that the way the world is right now is not going to be that way in the future.”
“We want to show our alliance,” said Mahu Kamal, who wanted to represent the Muslim community at Friday’s march. “Tomorrow it could be us.”
Counter protesters stood near the courthouse Friday evening, some there to protect the Vietnam Memorial Wall in case things got violent.
“What happened is a tragedy,” said Port Charlotte resident Chuck LeCroix, referencing Floyd while showing his support for law enforcement. “Everyone’s been peaceful and everyone can say what they want to say.”
But LeCroix thought the protesters were being “used to tear our country down,” he said. “They’re politically demarginalizing whites.”
McNamara said people had made multiple threats to the Black Lives Matter march organizers, but everything did stay peaceful, with no property damage nor arrests made due to the protest, according to Punta Gorda Police Department Lt. Dylan Renz.
“We proved everyone in this town wrong,” McNamara said after the protest.
But there’s more work ahead if there are going to be meaningful changes, McNamara said.
“One protest is not enough,” she said. “We will not stop until every murderer behind a badge is prosecuted. We will not stop until every system is broken down and reformed.”
Originally published in the Charlotte Sun on June 6, 2020.