A group of young people made signs and responded Wednesday evening to a post on social media to come to the Columbia Shopping Center on Wednesday afternoon to protest George Floyd’s recent death, and injustice against black people in general.
“Some random person just posted it on Facebook and we saw it and came here,” said Rebecca Gateley, 26, a graphics designer and a graduate of Southern Arkansas University. “We heard someone around here wanted us to be removed but then we heard the police said we could stay.”
Gateley said Magnolia Police officers that drove by their location on East Main in front of Dairy Queen waved at them, but did not talk to them. She said that even though the protest was small -- attended by less than 10 whites and two young African American boys who wanted to hold up signs, too -- that it was something that the group felt strongly about doing.
George Floyd, native of Houston, was killed May 25 in Minneapolis police custody. A video of an officer kneeling on his neck went viral. Floyd can be heard saying, “I can’t breathe,” before he died.
A Minneapolis police officer was charged with second-degree murder, and the case has incited protests across the country. Most have been peaceful but some have dissolved into violence after some protesters burnt property and graffitied property, as well as breaking into stores and looting merchandise. On television, there have been images of police violently pushing protesters back with tear gas and plastic bullets and in other situations praying with protesters and embracing them.
Cayden Sealey, 21, who moved to Magnolia from Arizona, held a sign that said, “Silence is Violence.” Sealey said he had witnessed the unfair treatment of African Americans by police in two situations back in his home state.
The first was when his African American friend bought a fancy necklace and a police officer stopped her.
“He asked, ‘Where did you get that?’ and she had to pull the receipt out of her pocket and show it,” he said.
The other case was of an African American acquaintance who was playing football and was running down the road holding a trophy from the recent championship.
“He was shot in the knee by a police officer and he had wanted to go pro, he was really good too. So, it is personal. It is personal. It is not cool. You can say all you want to about the police doing their job but that doesn’t include murder or violence.”
Although Floyd’s murder has called into the actions of police officers across the country by association, Sealey said he has members of his family who are officers and a cousin who is a marshal and they are sickened by the death at the hand of officers as well.
“They are outraged and say this is not what we signed up for,” Sealey said. “There are good cops out there.”
For the most part, Wednesday’s protest was met with encouragement from the public. Many vehicles on East Main honked and waved in support, some took photos and videos and one passerby yelled “stupid” at the protesters, while another screamed, “I love you.”
Another negative comment was made by a motorist who instructed protesters wearing their mask to take their masks off if they could not breathe. The protesters were holding a sign about Floyd’s last words.
Other people stopped to engage in a conversation with the protesters such as two women who told the protesters that they should have signs that say, “all lives matter,” and they should be protesting for Native Americans.
Another young man and a friend rolled up to the protesters in a truck with a Confederate flag in the dash and wanted to know if more people were expected to be coming or if there would be a walking protest downtown. The protesters said they did not know.
Some involved Wednesday did not want to be photographed or identified in any way due to fear of losing their jobs.
Another man, an older African American, drove up to the protesters just out of curiosity. He had a lot to say but did not want to be identified. He said he thought African Americans who did not have a job might join the protest, but he did not think those who do would do that.
“The thing about a little town like Magnolia, man, they might lose their jobs,” he said.
He said it is different in bigger towns such as Los Angeles where someone he and his wife knew had been shot with a rubber bullet.
“I appreciate what they are doing today, and I wish I could be out there with them, but I can’t take the heat,” he said.
He said he would have brought them water had he known they would be protesting.
As for Floyd, the man said he did not support the rioting or looting but said Floyd was “done wrong on national TV.”
The man’s wife, sitting next to him and nibbling on her to-go fish meal, said she thinks the protest shows equality and she thinks that is good.
“It shows all white people are not the same and not all black people are the same,” her husband said.
Before leaving the man told the protesters thank you and told them to “be good.”