GALLIPOLIS — Area residents gathered in front of the Gallipolis City Park Bandstand Monday evening to march and protest in support of the Black Lives Matter movement and voice their concerns with the death of George Floyd and racism across the country.
Area residents Rick Maldonado and Bethany Hardman helped organize an event which started at 6 p.m. and led hundreds from the bandstand, along Second Avenue and onto the Gallia Courthouse steps to chant, share dialogue and protest the death of Floyd and racism in the U.S. After protesting at the courthouse, protesters marched back to Gallipolis City Park chanting “I can’t breathe” and “Say his name. George Floyd.”
Floyd’s May 25 death has gained national attention after viral internet videos displayed a Minneapolis policeman pinning him to the ground with a knee on his neck. Floyd died while in police custody. Since that moment, protests and riots have appeared across the country to pull attention to what many say are years of systemic racism and police brutality targeting the black community.
“My general feelings are I hurt,” said Gallia resident Terry Qualls. “I hurt for every, not only black, but brown-pigmented person in our country. As far as what happened today, I’m proud to be from Gallia County. I never thought we’d have a turnout like this. People who I never thought would support it did… I’m hoping we can move forward and people can stop cheering for these African American kids in the sports arena and root for them in life. Because some of the same people that cheered for me are the same people that told their daughter they couldn’t come around me or the same people who look at me now and shrug at me like I don’t exist.”
Qualls said that he was a member of the West Virginia NAACP and Southern Leadership Council.
Qualls lauded the presence of area government officials and said that he was proud Gallipolis Police Chief Jeff Boyer and Gallia County Sheriff Matt Champlin walked with protesters from the park to the courthouse.
“My concern is that people keep that same energy towards race relations now that this is going on and will they continue that same path five or 10 years from now when my sons are growing up,” said Qualls. “I want my sons having a better experience than I had.”
Qualls made note of times he had been racially slurred while playing basketball in Vinton.
“Like everyone else, we felt compelled by current events, not just George Floyd, but the countless others,” said protest co-organizer Hardman. “In a small community like this, nobody wants to step up and take initiative. I feel like everyone kind of waits for other people. We got tired of waiting for other people. We put our heads together. Neither of us knew how to proceed, but we knew a gathering would be the best way to get our point across and promote that peaceful kind of inclusive solidarity that we were talking about and what others spoke about.”
“This past week there have been huge protests across this country,” said protest co-organizer Maldonado. “You have to go back to the Civil Rights Movement to see something of this scale. As for us, we saw protests in Jackson, Wellston and Athens, all across our area. We had to do something about it too. We decided to try and get people out. The response has been phenomenal. This is so much bigger than I thought it would be. It’s an outstanding success for Gallipolis.”
Hardman said she appreciated the sheriff and chief’s presence so that they were aware of community concerns.
“On behalf of my guys and my staff, we want everyone to know that it’s unacceptable,” said Champlin during the event of circumstances surrounding Floyd’s death. “It’s unacceptable by any standards. It’s unacceptable by our standards. I want to thank everyone for coming out here.”
Boyer said that he was happy to see the community hold a peaceful protest.
Gallia County Sheriff’s Office deputies were watching the protest from the roof of the courthouse. An unidentified drone was also observed flying above the protest.
Gallipolis City Commissioner Cody Caldwell also spoke during events at the courthouse and encouraged area residents to share their concerns with him, if desired.
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Dean Wright is a staff writer for Ohio Valley Publishing and can be reached at 740-446-2342.