Multiple protests took to downtown Terre Haute throughout the day Saturday, the scale and intensity of which ratcheted up as the day wore on, and lasted into the night as protesters stopped traffic while marching down Third Street, occasionally making stops at intersections to chant and kneel.
Starting with a prayer vigil before noon and working into a splintered demonstration of hundreds throughout the downtown by late afternoon, protesters spent the day railing against the death of George Floyd. Floyd died May 25 while Minneapolis police pinned him to the ground in handcuffs.
His death has sparked protests and riots across the country as America again wrestles with deep-seated race issues and the disparate use of force by police.
Those same race issues, and their supposed remedy, came to a head Saturday morning between the Vigo County Courthouse and Terre Haute City Hall.
Pastor Billy Jo Henry eulogized Floyd and called for peaceful protests that honor the life of both Floyd and Martin Luther King Jr.
He said King Jr. preached that hate brings about only more hate, and that we should always strive to be more understanding and openhearted.
“We must meet the forces of hate with the power of love,” Henry said, quoting King Jr. “Our aim must never be to defeat or humiliate the white man, but to win his friendship and understanding.
“... If we continue to live out [the MLK Jr.] legacy, generations after us will see less [segregation and racial tension]. Every generation that follows us will see less and less.”
Pastor Dwayne Malone seemingly took exception to Henry’s message and confronted him after closing prayer.
Malone asserted that rooting out systemic racism within the criminal justice system is the one sure way to bring about real change.
“There is racism and discrimination in the criminal justice system, and until you can say that, you’re useless,” Malone said.
After a brief back and forth, the two pastors eventually hugged one another and professed they had nothing but love for one another, but simply disagreed.
Katrina Woodson attended the morning vigil before marching in afternoon protests. She said she’s exhausted from having to march every time a black man is unjustly killed.
“We just want peace,” Woodson said. “It’s time to cut all this out. It’s obvious what was done, and it was unjust and unfair.
“The anger you’re seeing in these people is because of the fact that we never get justice and they only ever put a band-aid on things.”
According to the Associated Press, Floyd was arrested for supposedly using a counterfeit $20 bill at a store.
Police were trying to put Floyd in a squad car when he stiffened and fell to the ground, saying he was claustrophobic, according to the Associated Press. Police tried several times to get Floyd into the car.
He was eventually handcuffed and held face down on the ground. Officer J.K. Kueng held Floyd’s back and Officer Thomas Lane held his legs while Officer Derek Chauvin put his knee on Floyd’s head and neck area.
A video of the encounter shows Floyd pinned to the ground while crying out, “Please, I can’t breathe.”
He would later be pronounced dead at a nearby hospital.
Criminal charges were filed Friday morning against Chauvin. He was charged with third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter.
Protesters Saturday recreated the incident in the intersection of Fifth Street and Wabash Avenue. A man laid face down in street with his hands fixed behind his back while three others pinned his legs, abdomen and head to the ground.
They held him there for several minutes while more than 100 protesters knelt around the demonstration chanting “I can’t breathe.”
That demonstration was a part of several afternoon protests organized and largely guided by a younger, animated group more interested in action than scripture.
Erick Beverly, 35, of Terre Haute, led a group of more than 100 on the first march of the day from the courthouse to the Terre Haute Police Department. All along the way, Beverly called out chants of Floyd’s name and “I can’t breathe.”
But for the first part of the day, chanting sign waving was as far as it went.
Beverly said seeing the video of Floyd’s death brought with it an overwhelming sense of helplessness — a sense he intended to overcome Saturday.
“We are out here for George Floyd and every black life lost at the hands of cops that swore to protect and serve us,” Beverly said as protesters behind him chanted, “No justice, no peace. Prosecute the police.”
“And at the same time, I’m a taxpayer. I go to work every morning. And if I’ve got to earn my pay the honest way, so do they.”
The protesters chanted in front of the department for better than an hour before marching back toward the courthouse.
In a statement, Police Chief Shawn Keen said, “We recognize that our agency has been selected by a group of citizens as a destination for expressing their beliefs on a matter of importance. We support the rights of all citizens and will protect their right to assemble peacefully.”
And while police presence earlier in the day was sparse, it increased later in the day as more and more protesters took to the streets.
City officers and Indiana State Police blocked intersections and rerouted traffic for the demonstration along Wabash Avenue between 14th and Third streets and on U.S. 41 between Poplar and Cherry streets.
Only a few times did the police have to intervene in the protests.
Protesters were walking through traffic on U.S. 41 when a pickup truck approached. Demonstrators tried to block the truck, but the driver kept inching forward his vehicle.
The mass took exception to the man’s not stopping and started punching, kicking and climbing on the truck. State police shooed away the protesters and guided the truck out of the area.
Later, a man walked past the main group of demonstrators along U.S. 41 screaming “All lives matter,” a perceived slight against those promoting Black Lives Matter.
A group of protesters ran screaming at the man, with one in the pursuing group punching the man in the face.
Tess Brooks-Stephens said the “All Lives Matter” chant is disingenuous if that person won’t also admit that Black Lives Matter.
“I think it’s sometimes hard for people to understand that all lives can’t matter if black lives don’t matter,” Brooks-Stephens said. “And those of us that call ourselves Christians or faith believers or spiritualists or whatever, believe that inhumanity in any form is against the commandments of God.”
She said Saturday’s demonstrations in Terre Haute, and the many like them across the country, are borne of people being tired of having to protest the same thing over and over again.
“It seems to me Floyd’s death was the straw that broke the camel’s back,” Brooks-Stephens said. “There’s just been too much.
“And there comes a time when enough is enough. And it feels like we’re at that moment, a moment we need to embrace and use to propel this conversation forward to where real change can happen.”
• Later events — Later in the evening, after most of the crowd had dispersed, a small group continued marching southbound down Third Street from the courthouse, occasionally making stops at intersections to chant and kneel in protest with fists raised. Indiana State Police kept traffic away from the protesters and members of the THPD requested that the crowd move from the road to the sidewalk.
Reporter Alex Modesitt can be reached at 812-231-4232 or at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @TribStarAlex.