Chanting “No Justice! No Peace!” in a call-and-response pattern, more than 50 demonstrators marched peacefully through downtown Aiken on Saturday afternoon to protest the death of George Floyd.

Floyd, an African American male, died Monday after being detained by police officers in Minneapolis, Minnesota.

The crowd, a mix of races and ages, families with kids and moms with their babies in strollers, gathered at the Newberry Street Festival Center at 3 p.m. to march in support of a message of racial equality following similar protests nationwide after Floyd's death in Minneapolis. 

The demonstrators then walked to the Aiken County Courthouse a block away on Park Avenue, repeating chants of “Black lives matter”; “All lives matter”; and a familiar cry from the Civil Rights Movement in the 1960s, “We shall overcome” in the heat.

At the courthouse, they held up signs with the messages: “If Black Lives Don't Matter, No Lives Matter”; “Black Lives Matters! Justice Matters!”; “Kids Demand Justice!”; and "I can't breathe," a direct reference to Floyd's death.

Drivers honked their horns in support as they passed, and other residents shouted out their support as they walked along the sidewalks.

The marchers then made their way from the courthouse back to Newberry Street, through The Alley and up Laurens Street, looping back to Newberry via Richland Avenue. Some protesters planned to line Whiskey Road at the H. Odell Weeks Activities Center.

In keeping with the peaceful theme of the march, one of the protestors offered a prayer to start the march: “One accord. You know the Bible says when one, two or three are gathered in his name, and that's what we are. That's why we're all here, to show love, to show our support: one love, one nation. Black lives matter; all lives matter. Jesus, we know you've got us all covered, so just watch over us today and hear our prayer. Amen.”

“Amen,” the crowed responded as one.

Breona White, one of the protest's organizers, said the the demonstration was “all about unity.”

“We all have to stand together,” she said before the march began. “If we're separated, then it's not going to change anything. Our whole purpose is getting everybody down here, getting our voices heard. We can't be in Minneapolis with everybody else. We wanted to do a peaceful protest and bring everybody together.”

Floyd was pinned facedown on the ground, in handcuffs, by a white police officer who pressed his knee against Floyd's neck for more than eight minutes, according to newspaper reports.

White said police brutality will end only when people stand together to demand its end.

“Police brutality is a thing. It is a thing,” she said, repeating her words for emphasis. “If we don't come together to stop it, it's not going to stop. The only way to do this is to keep protesting and making our voices heard and everybody standing together. It keeps happening, but when everyone comes together, that's when it will stop.”

White said Floyd's death and other recent deaths of other African American men and women at the hands of policemen and civilians have special meaning for her. From Charleston, White experienced the “Charleston Nine” in her town. The mass shooting killed nine African American men and women June 17, 2015, at a Bible study at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church.

She knew Sharonda Coleman-Singleton, a track-and-field coach who was one of the nine murdered in the basement of the downtown church.

“I'm not from here, but this city is my home,” she said. “I worked in downtown Aiken for a year-and-a-half, and I see everybody loves each other and look at all the people who showed out. It is about unity.”

White said plans for the protest came together quickly on social media Friday night.

“At 11 p.m. Friday, I posted it on Facebook, and a flyer was made,” she said. “We shared it, and it blew up. In 10 minutes, we had hundreds of views. I wasn't expecting it to be that big. I love that so many people came out.”

Juliano Dinero reached out to White's “peaceful post.”

“The key words are 'peaceful post,'” he said. “That's what we're here for. There's a lot of riots going on around the world, but we don't want anything bad to have happen. We want everybody to feel safe. We're doing it for George Floyd and just trying to make a difference.”

Jesse Jackson, of Aiken, addressed the crowd at the end of the march: "Thank y'all for coming out. This is all about unity, love. We all got to stand together. … It's all about right or wrong. Racism fuels ignorance. Right or wrong. Stand together or we won't stand a chance."

News editor Holly Kemp contributed to this article.

 

​Larry Wood covers education for the Aiken Standard.