It was a hot, sunny 92-degree day, but that did not stop the 50 or so protesters from gathering on the Franklin County courthouse lawn Wednesday.
Like many areas across the U.S., Franklin County has seen protest activity stemming from the death of George Floyd, an unarmed black man, at the hands of Minneapolis, Minnesota police. Floyd was pinned by police for eight minutes and 46 seconds accused of paying with a counterfeit $20 bill.
Bridgette Craighead organized the peaceful demonstration with the hope of spreading a message of love. Overcome with emotion Wednesday, all she could muster was “I love you” when asked what her message was.
She told The Franklin News-Post on Tuesday, that she wanted to shake the hate out of Franklin County, but she would not condone any negative energy toward law enforcement.
Franklin County Sheriff’s Office Deputy Jeff Holland addressed those gathered on the lawn during Wednesday’s demonstration, saying he supports the public’s right to peacefully assemble and have their voices heard.
“Speaking from the heart I am hurt, sad, disgusted from the actions of four Minneapolis officers,” Holland said. “I know what it feels like to grow up in the South, to be aware of the injustice that is currently happening, that has happened in the past, and possibly will happen in the future. I also want to express my point of view from a law enforcement side. I took this job five years ago to better myself and be a role model for our community. I’m trying to be a bridge that connects us together by being respectful and showing compassion towards others when I put this uniform on.”
Holland expressed sympathy for the Floyd family and thanked those in attendance for acknowledging the hurt and injustice and the need for change. He closed by reciting the Lord’s Prayer and saying “I pray for a growing understanding that racism does exist and let us be the light for change and change starts with the heart.”
Franklin County Sheriff Bill Overton also spoke briefly to the crowd and released a statement Tuesday night before the protest saying the sheriff’s office had developed a plan in partnership with other local law enforcement and public safety partners that supports citizens’ right to peacefully assemble.
“What happened in Minneapolis was a true tragedy,” Overton said. “I was sickened by what I saw. Those that swore to protect and serve failed the very people they swore to protect.
“The Franklin County Sheriff’s Office is committed to remaining accountable and transparent to the citizens we serve. We must work together, all races, all professions, and unite to stop injustice across our great nation.”
Megan Patterson, public relations officer for the sheriff’s office, confirmed the FCSO does have riot gear and is equipped to handle violent protests, should it be necessary to do so. She said the sheriff’s office would also coordinate with Virginia State Police and Rocky Mount Police Department — if in town — to bring as many resources to the table to protect the property and people in the county.
Some protesters spoke with messages of support while others stood quietly displaying their signs that read “Black Lives Matter,” “Coexist,” “I can’t breathe,” “Say his name,” “America will not be great until there is justice for all” and many other heartfelt messages. At different points some laid down on the ground for nine minutes and others took a knee.
After protesting in front of the courthouse for a little more than an hour the protesters walked peacefully downtown to the Rocky Mount Farmers’ Market where they again stood along the street with signs, but also sang, danced and ate. Local law enforcement was even captured dancing with some of the protesters, including Craighead.
Another protest is planned for Saturday, June 6 from 1 to 3 p.m. on the corner of Franklin and North Main streets in Rocky Mount.
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