By LIZ HARDAWAY
Among hundreds of kneeling protesters for George Floyd, a man held up a lone sign.
“If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor,” the sign read.
Protesters, speakers and residents marched Friday evening in Punta Gorda to stand up for the injustice they’ve seen — not only on the news, on social media, but in their own community.
“Our community has been ignorant and silent to the elephant in the room,” said D’Andre Lewis, a Charlotte County native and Port Charlotte High School alum who will graduate from Stetson University this spring. “Every time issues of race are brought up in this county, we sweep it under the rug. Every time there’s a Trayvon Martin or George Floyd or Sandra Bland or Breonna Taylor, every time people in this exact community rub our backs for two weeks and then go on with the rest of their lives like nothing ever happened.”
“But no more,” he said.
March for Justice Charlotte hosted its second Black Lives Matter march Friday evening at Laishley Park, marching to Punta Gorda City Hall to kneel for George Floyd.
This time, the event included a lineup of speakers, opportunities to register to vote, a remembrance period for all the victims of police brutality and an open mic session at the end.
“Whenever black people try to tell their story, they run into the same fear and resentment,” said speaker James Abraham. “Imagine living in a country where you have to have laws passed to do the same things other citizens can do from birth.”
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A protester holds up a sign in support of Black Lives Matter at a march on Friday.
SUN PHOTOS BY SEAN C PORTER
Charlotte County Sheriff Bill Prummell shakes hands with Brian Johnson Friday.
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One of the main messages from the speakers was to get the people in the march to vote. “Make sure that you vote like your life depends on it, because it does,” said Aisha Alayande, the campaign manager for U.S. House of Representatives Democrat hopeful Allen Ellison.
“Why am I here? Because I cannot breathe,” said Alissa Perry, a paraprofessional at Port Charlotte High School, who was ordered last year to take down a photo of NFL player and activist Colin Kaepernick that was part of a Black History Month display in her classroom. “This systemic racism has taken our breath and that’s why we’re here.”
Carson McNamara, one of the organizers for the protest, told the crowd there was opposition from several local officials telling her that the protest was useless and wouldn’t have any effect on the community.
Despite this, approximately 600 people gathered Friday for the protest, according to estimations from Lt. Dylan Renz, a spokesperson for the Punta Gorda Police Department. This included Punta Gorda Police Chief Pam Davis and Charlotte County Sheriff Bill Prummell, who is looking into how to get body cameras for his office.
Renz also reported that there were no arrests nor property damage stemming from the protest as of 9 p.m. Friday.
“There should be no question whether you can trust law enforcement,” Prummell said. “I’m going to do what I can to get the trust of everyone in the community.”
“Unfortunately, black residents in this community do not live in the same Charlotte County as other residents,” Lewis said. He said most of the community did not understand what it was like to be the only black person in a classroom, being told by white teachers how he should feel about his ancestors being enslaved, or be told by their parents to do everything an officer says or else they’ll get shot.
“I feel like we turn a blind eye to a lot of things in the community,” said Chris Stephenson, a teacher at Charlotte Preparatory School. “Just because you don’t agree with the cause doesn’t mean we have to hate each other.”
Rotonda West resident Bonnie Gordon held up a sign urging residents to “vote for change.”
“I came because it’s time for us to become the America that was promised for everyone,” Gordon said.
March for Justice Charlotte is hoping to hold a town hall with local officials, law enforcement and other members of the community within the next two weeks. Residents can stay updated with their Facebook page at https://bit.ly/37k4FFn. Email: email@example.com
Chris Stephenson, a teacher at Charlotte Preparatory School, marches in a Black Lives Matter protest
SUN PHOTO BY SEAN C PORTER