A Black Lives Matter protest in Parsons is being organized by three women, all Parsons High School graduates. The protest, in response to the death of George Floyd in Minnesota, will start at 4 p.m. Saturday at the Parsons Municipal Building.
Shay Kelly, Taylor Moreland and Sydney Lancaster, representing the Black Lives Matter movement, have taken on the task of organizing the demonstration.
“Now is the perfect time to express what is really going on in small towns,” Kelly said. “People think racism doesn’t happen here. But it does. The thought that it doesn’t happen here is where the issue lies. We have to believe that black lives matter for all lives to matter.”
Saturday’s event will feature various speakers from the community, including Mayor Jeff Perez and Parsons Police Chief Robert Spinks.
Spinks, along with Deputy Police Chief Dennis Dodd, will march alongside protesters to the Parsons Police Department where a prayer vigil will be held.
“We view ourselves as guardians of the community first,” Spinks said. “Dennis and I plan on walking with the group from city hall to the police department. I want to view this like some law enforcement officials have, and that we’re part of the community. We should reflect that. We’re facilitators to make our home as safe as we possibly can. We have to be sensitive to all the different factions and needs we have in Parsons.”
The protest organizers as well as Spinks stress that Saturday’s event is intended to be peaceful.
“We’re not protesting against our police,” Moreland said. “We’re protesting against corrupt law enforcement institutions across the nation. Our police department wants to express their disappointment in other officers that are corrupt. So we want them to be a part of that.”
Spinks and the police department have been coordinating with the organizers to ensure the event stays safe. Spinks also said that voter registration may be a part of the event.
“We’re anticipating a peaceful event that involves potentially voter registration,” Spinks said. “The working relationship we have with the organizers is extremely positive. I hope we have just another good community event here in Parsons. We’ll plan for every contingency.”
The protest organizers got the green light Monday from the Parsons City Commission to hold the protest and said that the police department has been enthusiastic in its efforts. The original plan was to march from 32nd and Main to the police station, but that was changed to start at the Municipal Building after visiting with police.
“Immediately the chief seemed excited and agreed with all of our points,” Moreland said. “They want to be there with us and not to intimidate us or silence us.”
“The voter turnout is so small,” Lancaster added. “If we want to make change, we have to vote for people that will support our movement. You can’t vote for them unless you’re registered to vote.”
Lancaster, a political science student at Kansas State University, said one of her points of emphasis is to encourage more outreach from the white community.
“We need to be better allies for the community,” Lancaster said. “I can’t speak from the black perspective, but I can speak as a white ally. I think it’s important for everybody to speak out against racial injustices. I don’t see that enough from the community.
“For white people, it’s so hard for us to talk about racism. Black people have to fear it all the time. So if we don’t use our privilege to help the community, what are we doing? The community sees racism all the time.”
Moreland, a psychology student at Pittsburg State University, attended protests in Kansas City along with Lancaster.
“The cops were taunting the crowd, saying rude things and laughing in our face,” Moreland said. “I’ve never had a reaction like that with Parsons police. I’ve never seen anything racially motivated from the police here in town. So we want to let them know we appreciate that and that our community stands together with them.”
Parsons police are coordinating with other law enforcement agencies, including the Labette County Sheriff’s Office and Kansas Highway Patrol.
“We’ve already convened a planning team within the police department,” Spinks said. “Our plans won’t involve just our police department, but some of our policing partners in the area. It appears that the organizers intend to have a peaceful event that is about the airing of larger grievances that have plagued society.”
Moreland reiterated that violence won’t be tolerated at Saturday’s protest.
“I’m keeping an eye on social media and the police are, too,” Moreland said. “We know there might be potential unrest on both sides of the fence. We won’t tolerate violence from any side. This is supposed to represent unity. So we need to hold our community accountable.”
Spinks said that anybody that incites or starts violence at Saturday’s protest will be met with “an appropriate amount of force” to keep the event safe for the community.
“One reason people are hesitant to have protests here is out of fear,” Lancaster said. “We’ve been scared of other radical groups coming to protest us. People who protest are targets. We’re fearing that, but we also know that this movement is bigger and we can’t let fear keep us from making change.”
Saturday’s protest comes during a week when protests around the nation have increased in response to Floyd’s death on May 25. Floyd died in Minneapolis as he was being arrested. A police officer, Derek Chauvin, was charged with third-degree murder in Floyd’s death after he knelt on Floyd’s neck while Floyd was handcuffed and lying on the street.
Chauvin kept his knee pinned on Floyd for eight minutes and 46 seconds. According to a criminal complaint detailing the charges against Chauvin, two minutes and 53 seconds of that came after Floyd became unresponsive. Three other officers participated in the arrest and none intervened.
Spinks spoke at the Parsons City Commission meeting on Monday to publicly condemn Chauvin’s actions.
“The actions of the former officers in Minneapolis are reprehensible,” Spinks told the Sun. “They need to be charged and unfortunately have left a stain on the profession of law enforcement. There are other instances across the United States that are amplified by the environment we live in. Even if one half of 1% of the law enforcement community should not be wearing a gun and a badge, when you’re talking about a million officers, that’s still a lot of people. We have to, as a profession, identify those individuals and root them out of the service.”
For the Black Lives Matter movement, Saturday’s protest aims to be a stepping stone for a continued conversation on equality and racism in Southeast Kansas.
“I wake up black every day and can’t change it,” Kelly said. “So we need to be consistent about the message we’re bringing. That’s what will make change happen.”