Harrison County

Song, prayer and a call for unity at Gulfport Black Lives Matter rally

Close to 50 peaceful protesters turned out Saturday afternoon at Jones Park, calling for peace, solidarity and unity — and also for an end to the killing of black people by police.

Some had stories of cases of profiling. Some had a message for law enforcement. But all of them expressed condemnation of violence as a solution to any cause.

Protesters mourned the loss of Alton Sterling, fatally shot by Baton Rouge police July 5, and the death of Philando Castille in Minnesota on July 6. They also mourned the loss of five police officers killed in a sniper attack at a peaceful protest in Dallas on July 7.

“We stand in solidarity with those in Dallas and their families,” said event organizer Sarah Barnes. “We want to open up a dialogue with law enforcement. We would like to be known as an example of the positive things the movement can accomplish.”

The disconnect between Black Lives Matter critics and movement supporters is largely about perceptions, former Seabee, and Dallas native, Bryan Williams said.

“It’s not a black/white thing. A lot of people think it’s a black/white thing. That’s where you get the ‘all lives matter’ stuff. It’s not.

“It’s a systematic thing. I think many black men have the feeling that they are targeted, or think the police believe they are a criminal, or up to something. I don’t want to feel that way. I don’t want others to feel that way,” he said.

A few counter protesters took their turn driving by with Confederate flags displayed on their vehicles. One biker played AC/DC’s “Back in Black” as he rolled by the demonstrators.

Protesters gathered under the watchful eyes of Gulfport police, who despite the nonviolent nature of the demonstration, remained vigilant in the background.

Two patrol cars stationed in the west end of the parking lot helped officers keep an eye on the demonstration. A watch tower was set up across U.S. 90 with a view of the demonstration area.

The Gulfport rally was held three days past the three-year anniversary of the start up of the Black Lives Matter movement, which began when George Zimmerman was acquitted for second-degree murder in the shooting death of Trayvon Martin in Florida. The movement picked up momentum after Michael Brown was shot and killed by a sheriff’s deputy in Ferguson, Missouri.

Since then, it has had outspoken supporters and detractors.

Lea Campbell said she’s used to seeing skepticism about the group on Facebook and other social media outlets.

“I think there’s a lot of misinformation about what we are about,” she said. “We’re about coming together as a whole. I think a lot of fear prevents us from coming together.”

“Our main goal is to send a message of unity, equality and accountability,” said protester Daniel Canfield. “Black lives should matter as much as anyone else’s.”

Gulfport demonstrators represent the best of the movement, or what it should strive to be like, Chief Leonard Papania said

“I think we prove as a city that you can value your diversity and come together at the same time. I look at Gulfport as a pot of gumbo, where everything is kind of jumbled together,” he said.