By Barney Blakeney
For more than a week, the Charleston metropolitan area has seen almost daily protests spurred by the May 25 wanton police murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis, Minn. From Mount Pleasant to Walterboro thousands of youthful protesters have staged continuous marches and rallies. Will they continue?
Local community activist Pastor Thomas Dixon said this is a sustained presence and different energy that he hasn’t seen before. “I’m cautiously optimistic, but I hope it continues,” he said.
Dixon organized a June 6 ‘Say Their Names’ rally in North Charleston. Protesters marched to city hall where they chanted, drummed, danced and heard various speakers, including police. Members of 2015 North Charleston police shooting victim Walter Scott also spoke. Noting the protests overwhelmingly have been led by and predominantly included young people of all races Dixon said, “The only people there with gray hair was me and the Scott brothers.” A June 8 protest was organized by Fort Dorchester High School students.
Asked if the community’s youth will continue the protests long term, Dixon said, “We’ve seen this before and a few days later things went back to business as usual. We know it takes sustained pressure to dig up the roots of racism. You have to stay focused. Even after Walter Scott and the murders at Emanuel AME Church, within two months it went back to business as usual. Since then (2015) other men and women have been killed. There has been some level of uproar. But this is more visible, a more blatant example of over-aggressive policing. If ever we’re going to make systemic change, now is the time.”
Asked if protests alone will exact the change needed Dixon said, “In the past we’ve gotten stuck on the ‘unity bridge’ and never stepped beyond it. The real work happens after the marches. But there’s a lot of pent up energy. That tension has to be released before we move forward.” The protests will “choke” those in power into addressing all the other issues – education, healthcare, and economics – things that detract from the quality of life for Black people. “It’s all those things that determine whether Black lives really do matter,” Dixon said.
“Our young people are not stupid. And they’re getting smarter!” Dixon said. “They realize that moving forward requires them doing things together. They have the energy to move this forward. The older generation needs to be the people they can turn to for advice and support. In the past we’ve counted them out of the equation,” he said.