Thousands of people across all three Triad cities organized, protested and marched in the streets over the weekend in continuation with action that started last Saturday after the killing of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police.
On June 5, organizers with Greensboro Rising, a local advocacy group, held a memorial event in the governmental plaza in downtown Greensboro where they erected a memorial for black lives, including Breonna Taylor, a black EMT worker in Louisville, Ky. who was shot and killed on March 13 when police barged into her home without warning.
“Today is Breonna Taylor’s birthday,” said one of the organizers to the crowd. “She should have been 27 today, and she’s not 27 today because the police came into her house with an illegal no-knock warrant and shot her while she slept. That’s something that we cannot forget. That’s why we asked you to wear white and yellow today. Yellow was apparently her favorite color. And we’re going to say her name.”
Organizers lifted up Taylor’s name among others who have been killed at the hands of police including Tony McDade — a black transperson who was killed by police in Tallahassee, Fla. on May 27 — as well as Greensboro’s Marcus Deon Smith.
Protesters sang, chanted and listened to organizers as they repeated demands of the Greensboro city council, including making amends to the Smith family, defunding police and ending the curfew which began on June 1 and ended on June 8.
About 20 minutes into the event, a commotion ensued when protesters identified and proceeded to follow News & Record photographer Woody Marshall off of the premises. Organizers stated at the beginning of the memorial event that staff associated with Greensboro’s daily newspaper was not welcome after they posted an online video publicizing a black protester’s phone number. An altercation between Marshall and a black female protester took place.
After almost an hour and a half of speaking and rallying at the Governmental Plaza, organizers and protesters took to the streets where they walked through downtown to Gate City Boulevard. They stopped for a while at the corner of Gate City and Freeman Mill Road, where the group of more than a hundred protesters stopped traffic and held a brief impromptu street party. After it began to rain, the group mached back to downtown and then dispersed.
In Winston-Salem, close to 1,000 people gathered in downtown on June 6 for the eighth consecutive day of action for black lives. People of all ages and races marched together, promoting unity and bringing light to systemic racism and police violence.
The protest, which started near the Ward Federal Building, included elected officials as well as members of the Forsyth County Association of Educators.
“Whoever said they wanted their child to grow up in a racist society?” asked Tandice Jeanbaptiste, a teacher in Winston-Salem/Forsyth County Schools, during a speakout at Winston Square Park. “But when it’s time to stand up, no one wants to stand up. We are the educators. They can train us on Canvas? They can train us on computer technology? They can educate us on anything. But they will not train us on how to teach a bunch of students how to go against racism. Why won’t they teach us about talking about racism? Oh, I’m sorry. Does talking about racism make you uncomfortable? Well, you know what? Racism is uncomfortable.”
Protests in Winston-Salem have been different from the ones in Greensboro in that almost no vandalism or destruction of property has taken place.
At the beginning of the event, one of the organizers, Frankie Gist, spoke about the unity he’s seen at Winston-Salem’s protests.
He mentioned the unique cooperation between protesters and police — in stark contrast to Charlotte and other cities across the country where police violently attacked protesters.
“Not many people can see the bigger vision,” he said in an interview. “It’s beyond George Floyd. You know, we have crime happen every day in our city. But in order for us to be able to decrease that crime, all these people that’s here today need to come together.”
In Greensboro, while there wasn’t as large of a protest like the day before, one of organizers with Greensboro Rising, spoke with Triad City Beat in a Facebook Live video about their demands for city leadership.
“When you hear people say defund the police, that’s what people are talking about,” said Casey Thomas. “We want the money that goes to making it true that in Greensboro four out of five people who are searched are black. Marijuana is basically legal for white people here. Eighty percent of arrests for marijuana are black; we’re only 44 percent of the city. We want all of the money that goes into harassing people, profiling people…. we want to be put into a real 311 number.”
A few dozen protesters also gathered in front of the International Civil Rights Museum in downtown to chant and lift up the names of those killed by police.
Watch footage of the interview with Casey Merie as well as the protest at the museum here.
On Sunday, a rally that had been organized by Greensboro Rising mobilized the largest group of protesters since the start of the protests on May 30. More than a thousand people wearing all black and holding signs that read “I Can’t Breathe” and “Am I Next?” filled LeBauer Park in downtown Greensboro starting around 2 p.m.
Organizers with Greensboro Rising spoke on stage for more than two hours, listing demands, and centering individuals who had been directly affected during the last week of protests. Among the speakers was a group of young black men who call themselves the Protest 5, who were arrested on June 2 for bringing weapons to a protest. In contrast, an armed white militia activist who has a history of conducing firearms training with open white supremacists, came to downtown Greensboro two nights in a row, has so far evaded any criminal charges by police.
After they and several others spoke at the rally, the enormous group began to march from the park to governmental plaza where a spiritual event was underway. Briefly taking over the space, protesters filled the rows of steps in front of the stage and chanted along with organizers. After about 20 minutes, the group moved again, and decided to march throughout downtown, eventually ending up in front of the old News & Record building on Market Street.
Organizers asked the hundreds of protesters to fill the street in front of the building as they chanted, “Who’s streets? Our streets!”
Then, the group sat in silence for close to nine minutes in honor of George Floyd, who died after a Minneapolis police officer kneeled on his neck for the same amount of time.
Afterwards, organizers admonished Greensboro mayor Nancy Vaughan for enacting the 8 p.m. curfew and cried out for her to reverse her rule.
Towards the end of the event, one of the protesters, who said they were born and raised in the city, said they joined the action to fight for their rights.
“I came because it’s important that our children and our children’s children don’t have to see the same injustices that we have,” they said. “I remember my great-grandmother and my grandmother telling me stories about what happened to them in the ’60s so it’s always something that continues to happen unless we say enough is enough and stand up for what’s right. I think it’s important for me as a black woman to stand up and say, ‘Enough is enough.’ We won’t have it anymore.”
Throughout the afternoon and early evening on Sunday, a separate group dubbed “Operation West” shut down Walmart, Sam’s Club and Target and West Wendover Avenue, culminating with a shutdown of Interstate 40 in defiance of the curfew which ended on Monday.