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Protests come to small-town Kentucky

“Black lives matter” isn’t only about lives threatened by rogue police officers, it’s about the quality of life people of color experience and how it is affected by racism that is sometime subtle.

That’s what some said who attended a protest in front of the Clark County Courthouse said Saturday night.

“Police brutality is at the forefront right now, but it’s about all racism,” said Brandi Francisco of Winchester, who was there with her young daughter, Thomiyah, and some other family members.

“There’s a lot of stuff below the surface that’s not brought to attention, and it’s time to bring some awareness to it and bring an end to it,” she said.

Francisco said there is still discrimination in jobs and housing, and she still “gets looks” from white people when she goes into stores and has had employees follow her around to make sure she doesn’t steal anything.

Bethel Robinson attended with her children, Makayla and Joshua. It was the first time she had ever been to a protest.

“I’m happy to see the community come out and support us,” she said, and was encouraged by protests around the world.

Robinson said she thinks the movement will make a difference.

“I think they’re looking at some things that need to be changed,” she said.

Some changes being discussed around the country include banning law enforcement tactics such as no-knock search warrants and use of choke holds, and Democrats in Congress are proposing changing laws that protect police officers from prosecution.

Jo Spencer, a white writer who divides her time between California and Kentucky, said the demonstrations have already made a difference, and the change began with the video-recorded slow killing of a black man, George Floyd, by a white Minneapolis police officer while other officers stood by and did nothing.

“We all watched the movie. That’s what sparked a global movement,” Spencer said. “Would you and I be standing here talking about African-American civil rights if George Floyd hadn’t been murdered?” she asked. 

Spencer said earlier civil rights movements had been led by people of her generation, but “this one is being led by people in their teens and twenties.”

That was true of the small demonstration Saturday night in front of the Clark County Courthouse, which was attended by about 40 people, most of them in that age group. Another rally there Sunday attracted a smaller crowd.

Leon Veal, 19, of Winchester, who organized the two protests, said they were the first ones he had ever attended.

“I love the unity,” he said.

Veal said he was hoping there would be police at the rally, not so he could confront them, but so he and others could talk with them.

“I just want to give my thoughts and hear theirs,” he said, and “maybe come to a mutual understanding.”

Winchester Police Chief Kevin Palmer later showed up alone at the rally Saturday.

“This was what a protest should be,” he said.

The chief said all the rallies in Winchester have been peaceful.

At one, he said, there “might have been some words” exchanged with people whose vehicles were stopped in the street, but there was no violence.

“That was my biggest fear, that they might have a confrontation with somebody in a vehicle, but it didn’t happen, and that’s good,” he said.

Clayton Shimfessel of Winchester, who described himself as an anarchist, was more militant than Veal in his rhetoric. He said that for him, the protests against police use of excessive force against black suspects was part of a bigger issue.

“We’re all brothers and sisters oppressed by the state and by capitalism, … and we have to stand together,” he said. “Police are just capitalist goon squads meant to defend those in power.”

Shimfessel said violence should be “the last resort,” but he would “fight back” if necessary.

Saturday was the biggest day so far for Black Lives Matter protests around the world.

In Kentucky, there were demonstrations not only in Louisville and Lexington, but rallies in Morehead and Richmond involving hundreds, as well as protests in smaller towns, including Hazard, Corbin, Barbourville and Winchester.

“I think it’s important to spread the message in small towns and rural America,” said Andrea Stephenson, 25, of Mount Sterling, formerly of Winchester. 

Stephenson said the protests had spread to all 50 states and at least 18 countries around the world.

“It’s the largest civil rights movement in history,” she said.

She said she expected that someday her children and grandchildren would read about it.

About Randy Patrick

Randy Patrick is a reporter for Bluegrass Newsmedia, which includes The Jessamine Journal. He may be reached at 859-759-0015 or by email at randy.patrick@bluegrassnewsmedia.com.

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