Cries for peace, unity and change highlighted a march through downtown Plaquemine on Saturday, June 6, during a peaceful protest to call for an end to violence against black men by police officers.
Approximately 100 residents – a strong mix of black and white – walked the streets from the Plaquemine Lock State Historic Site to City Hall to protest the May 25 killing of George Floyd by Minneapolis police.
The march was one of thousands that have taken place across the nation since video of Derek Chauvin kneeling upon Floyd’s neck until the security guard died. Chauvin’s knee remained atop Floyd as three other officers taunted Floyd until he died nine minutes later.
Iberville Parish Councilman Raheem Pierce – at 18, the youngest public official in Louisiana – organized the rally.
The nonviolent protest follows the approach Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. took when he led marches beginning in the 1950s until his assassination April 4, 1968.
“I hope to bring the spotlight on the senseless killing of unarmed black people across the United States of America,” he said. “I’m trying to follow what Dr. King set for nonviolent protest, and to show my fellow young black people not to be afraid to make a statement.”
The killing and subsequent demonstrations – some of which have led to deaths and in widespread damages in major cities across America – seemed all too familiar to many of the rally’s participants.
“Another black male was taken, and I looked in the mirror and said it could’ve been me,” resident Kilrain Popleon said. “We’re tired … we marched these same streets in 1963 in a fight against social injustice, and here we are more than a half-century later fighting for the same fighting.
“We need to show our younger generation that the same old thing isn’t working,” he said. “When you mix energy with youth, we get more energy for change.”
In Plaquemine, chants of “I Can’t Breathe “– Floyd’s last words – and the song “Let There Be Peace on Earth” highlighted the protest.
Resident Vincent Thompson, 33, cried as he spoke about the killing.
“We are all human and I’m sick of this … I’m ready for it all to end,” he said.
The graphic image was shocking, but all too familiar, resident Adrienne Guillory said.
She called the video “the most painful thing” she saw since joining social media.
“I said, “Oh my God, not again” … this main cried for his life while he had a knee on his neck and another on his back,” Guillory said. “When George Floyd cried out to his momma, my heart shattered for every black mother who has lost a child to senseless violence.
“When I look at Mr. Floyd, I saw the face of my husband, my son, my dad, my brother and every black man in this country, wondering who will be next,” she said. “I’m done talking … I’m ready to take action.”
Several public officials participated in the march, including Plaquemine Mayor Edwin Reeves, Iberville Parish School Board Superintendent Arthur Joffrion, Selectman/mayoral candidate Timmy Martinez and Selectman Oscar Mellion.
Reeves told the crowd he shared in their anger and outrage.
“We come together today as one race – the human race,” he said. “It’s good to see people come together to fight racial injustice.
“We need to do better, and we do better in Plaquemine,” Reeves said. “Our police officers work together in the community, and I’m very proud of that.”
He then led the crowd in a chant of “No Justice, No Peace.”
Resident Cody Kelson told the crowd it will take more than just the black race to stop the injustice.
The large racial mix at the Plaquemine rally marked a change from demonstrations of the early 1960s.
‘I just want to thank God for the opportunity to have whites and blacks come together. I remember my grandfather telling me how when they were protesting, it was only one race, but now it’s blacks and whites together,” he said. “I went back to a conversation my mom and dad had with me when I was little and told me that some people won’t like me because of the color of my skin.
“But in my mind, I said I wouldn’t give the same hate because I want to be peaceful and not hate everybody … it’s stupid to want someone to die because of the color of their skin.,” Kelson said. “We are one people … when we cut our arm and bleed, it’s all red. When we hold our fists up, it’s not about black power, but blacks wanting to be equal.”