While thousands of protesters gathered and marched in downtown Greensboro on Sunday afternoon to demand an end to police brutality and systemic racism, a smaller group dubbed “Operation West” shut down big box stores on West Wendover Avenue, and then took over Interstate 40 for about 25 minutes in defiance of the curfew imposed by Mayor Nancy Vaughan.

“Our people are free,” said Joshua Caudle, one of the protesters. “We’re no longer allowing any kind obstacles to come in between what we have. What we really wanted to do is to show you that it’s possible to assemble in peace. It’s possible to assemble with a purpose. And so that — we feel very good. We shut down Walmart. We shut down Sam’s Club. We shut down Target. And a lot of people looked at that like, ‘Oh my God, they’re gonna come in here and loot and rob and steal.’ That was actually the opposite. We just wanted a moment to occupy these large, massive spaces because these companies have a history of donating to President Trump, and his negative thinking. So, what we wanted to show people is that, ‘You know what? Take time out of your day to see what’s going on in the world, because this world will be left to your children, and what kind of world do you want left to them?”

The eight-hour civil disobedience drew people from a wide range of ages.

Edison Tyson, a 69-year-old Army and Navy veteran, who first protested police brutality against black people in 1978 after the New York police killed Arthur Miller with a chokehold.

While most if not all of the protesters were black, the national wave of protests in the wake of the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis is notable for the participation of people of all colors, including white people.

As the protesters were leaving and a Greensboro police officer drove around with a loudspeaker announcing that they were “in violation of the city’s curfew order,” a man who gave his name as Dillon stood on the sidewalk outside Sheetz holding a sign reading, “Unity.”

“We’ve been trying to end this for 300 years,” he said. “It’s time to end the hate. There are men out here who are 85 years old marching with high school kids. Change needs to happen now.”

Dillon said racially discriminatory policing is apparent, noting a black friend who served two years in jail while a white person only served probation for possession of the same amount of marijuana.

“I could go down the road in my Silverado truck with expired tags, and nothing’s going to happen to me,” he said. “I’ve never been ticketed.”

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