Whitesburg KY

About 200 people attend protest here

Nearly 200 Letcher County citizens gathered in front of the courthouse in Whitesburg on Friday evening in a peaceful show of support for protesters in Louisville and other cities, and to draw attention to racism here.

The size of the crowd took many by surprise, and unlike larger cities, there were no counter-protesters and no violence.

There were isolated problems, but none serious. Some protesters said they discovered nooses at the city walking track before the event, though Whitesburg Police Chief Tyrone Fields said he had not received a report of it. Three loud bangs were heard as the protest ended, but police were unable to determine if they were gunshots or fireworks. They appeared to come from the walking trail across the river from downtown, where the march took place.

Police said they stopped several vehicles that they felt were there to disrupt the event and turned them away from town. One did slip through beforehand, driving around the block twice with a Confederate flag flying from the bed.

Nate Thompson, whose father Truman was the first African-American fire chief in Whitesburg, acted as emcee of event, introducing guest speakers ranging from former Sundy Best singer Nick Jamerson to U.S. Senate candidate Charles Booker, a state representative from Louisville’s West End. State Representative Angie Hatton also spoke, but the only local elected official in evidence was Sheriff Mickey Stines, who manned a roadblock near the protesters and directed traffic away.

Several county residents spoke about their experiences with racism here, including brother and sister Diondre Carter and Dayjha Hogg of Whitesburg, who spoke about being followed in local stores because workers thought they would steal, and listening to people use racial slurs and being powerless to do anything.

Jamerson, who grew up in Prestonsburg, read the lyrics of a song he has written about racism, and urged residents to speak out when they see or hear something racist.

“I sat and listened to the black jokes and the black games, and I didn’t have the gumption to stand up and say that’s wrong,” Jamerson said. “I do now.”

Hatton thanked the police officers present at the protest for being there to support and help them, thanking Whitesburg Police Chief Tyrone Fields and Sheriff Mickey Stines by name.

“We know that an awful lot of you all want to hold accountable the bad seeds in your forces,” she said.

She said the protests have been useful in that they have drawn attention to the fact that racism is still a problem, even 60 years after the civil rights movement.

“I think the horrible things we have seen happen this spring have been a catalyst for change,” Hatton said.

Booker, who wore a Tshirt emblazoned with the words “Fight poverty, not the poor,” called Hatton “a giant in the House,” and said she is one of his closest allies in the legislature “because we have so much in common.”

“I just gravitate to her, I gravitate to some of my colleagues in east Kentucky because in order for things to change, we’ve got to stand together,” he said, looking out at the people spread out on the street in front of him. “You don’t know how much this means to me.”

The group was largely white, but there were many black and biracial people in the crowd, many of them in their 20s. The protest was one of many against police violence that have spread to small towns across America in the wake of the videotaped death of George Floyd in Minneapolis.

Floyd was arrested for buying a pack of cigarettes with what the clerk believed to be a counterfeit $20 bill. Floyd, who it was later found was positive for COVID-19, told police he couldn’t breathe while three officers placed him facedown on the pavement with their knees on him. One held his knee on Floyd’s neck for 8 minutes and 46 seconds, until he died.

But Kentuckians have their own cause to march. Breonna Taylor, a 26-year-old black woman from Louisville’s West End who was an emergency medical technician and worked in the emergency room at a Louisville hospital, was shot dead after police serving a “no knock” search warrant went to the wrong address and broke into her home in middle of the night. When her boyfriend fired on who he said he thought were burglars, police shot both him and Taylor. Taylor was hit eight times and died.

After marching down Main Street and East Main to Whitesburg City Hall, protesters held a memorial for Taylor, and then kneeled in silence for 8 minutes and 46 seconds, the time it took Floyd to die under the police officer’s knee in Minnesota.

When the memorials were over, the group marched back down the street alternating chants of “Black Lives Matter,” “No justice, no peace,” and “I can’t breathe,” George Floyd’s last words.

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