Last night, I was pacing back and forth through my house as I often do when I’m trying to mentally sort through something. My wife, Kacie, and daughter, Alyson, asked me what was bothering me. I responded that a lot of what I was seeing in the news about the protests did not make any sense to me. It couldn’t be reconciled with what I had seen myself in what I had read and seen firsthand.
Today, I decided to speak with a few people who could provide some additional insight into the Black Lives Matter rally that took place in Lakeland, Florida over the weekend. What I discovered was disturbing.
Lakeland’s Munn Park last Sunday, May 31, 2020, was the site of a Black Lives Matter rally to protest the police killing of George Floyd. Until its recent relocation, Munn Park was the home of a large Confederate Memorial erected over one hundred years ago. The Black Lives Matter protest held in the park was peaceful by all accounts. A few patrons of Harry’s Seafood Restaurant, which is located across the street from Munn Park, hurled insults and rudely gestured to some of those involved in the protest, but there was no physical violence.
According to an unnamed city employee, at some point in the afternoon, a van pulled up near Munn Park and dropped off a group of white people who began attempting to instigate the protesters to relocate to a more prominent and confrontational place in the city. The Black Lives Matter organizers of the rally cautioned people that they were no longer participating in the Black Lives Matter rally if they left the park, encouraging protestors not to listen to the instigators.
Despite the organizers’ caution, around half of the crowd that had assembled in Munn Park relocated to one of the busiest intersections in Lakeland. After the protest had made its way into the street, a woman was hit by a car. The crowd rushed to converge on the car and help the woman who was hit. A cropped image of that moment was later held up by the Polk County Sheriff during a news conference to demonstrate that the protests were descending into violence. The woman who had been hit by the car was cropped out of the picture. Don’t believe what you’re being fed.
Jackie Murphy took part in the Lakeland Black Lives Matter protest. I had the opportunity to speak with her a little about her experience, and her decision to confront individuals who were present and seemed out of place. Jackie said she was worried about people coming in and making the protest seem like something it was not. Right after the woman mentioned above was hit by the car, Jackie noticed some men wearing ski masks covering all but their eyes and carrying backpacks. “I knew anything could pop off at any moment, so I had my eyes wide open,” Jackie recalled. “I called them out because they looked out of place. When I did that, they kind of walked off really fast.”
I cannot stress enough the importance of treating anything the media and elected officials are saying about the events unfolding with skepticism. Any photo can be presented in a way that can make it appear to support any claim being made by its presenter. Any news outlet can choose to falsely combine the peaceful protestors with the violent rioters in a way that presents a negative image of the movements for justice that are playing out. When Jackie saw something that seemed out of place, she decided to confront the situation. Maybe the masked men were just peacefully protesting and wishing to remain unidentified, but their behavior seemed suspicious.
The important part of this story is that Jackie chose to keep her eyes open and be vigilant. Those who are against the protests and the message of racial equality/justice will seize upon any opportunity to frame the debate in a negative light. It is important for those of us supporting and partaking in this movement to be vigilant and vocal when it comes to stopping those whose violent/adverse actions could alter the conversation and diminish our message.
“I feel like at any protest there is a possibility of some bad people mixed in with the good,” Jackie opined. She went on to say that we should not allow them to be a distraction from the injustice that needs to be addressed. That injustice is the evil, skin color-based inequality that has plagued our cities and nation throughout history. The protestors’ message is justice.
A second peaceful protest is scheduled for 2:30pm ET this Sunday, June 7, 2020 in Munn Park. Kacie and I hope to see you there.