Editor’s note: This article is part of a week-long series examining race in Grant County through the lenses of history, the judicial system, religion, activism and law enforcement.
On May 29, 18-year-old Trinidad Alfaro and her friend Lauren Flynn stood alone on the Grant County Courthouse Square demanding justice for George Floyd, who had been killed by police earlier that week.
Seven days later, more than 300 community members were following Alfaro and four other young women around the courthouse, demanding change.
“People thought it was going to stop and it’s not stopping,” she said.
Protestors have been met with resistance, Alfaro said.
“Because we’re trying so hard, it’s creating more tension,” she said. “We’re not attacking the community, we’re trying to educate the community. We’re trying to end a war. We’re trying to love and not hate. We’re trying so hard to remain peaceful. Who doesn’t want to fight hate with hate? That’s the easiest route.”
Torri Williams, local activist and pioneer of Marion’s newly established Black Lives Matter chapter, said community engagement has changed since the initial protests.
“People are looking for next steps and how to actually effect change instead of just showing up for an event,” she said. “I think the next step is gathering information.”
In an effort to gather information, Williams created a survey for community members regarding possible improvements to local law enforcement, including increased community engagement and implementation of implicit bias and cultural sensitivity training.
“There are some pretty easy, tangible changes that can happen,” she said. “I refuse to give up on the idea that we can actually do some stuff together.”
More than 800 community members responded to the survey.
According to Williams, many people do not understand what the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement stands for.
“It’s a beautiful movement, but all you hear is the extreme criticism or misinformation,” she said. “In order to do this work you have to make sure you are defining what’s happening or other people will tell you what your group is about.”
According to the Black Lives Matter Marion Facebook page, “Black Lives Matter Marion is committed to serving, uplifting and building a more just community. Our work is centered on fighting against injustices committed against Black lives, and by extension, all people.”
Williams said the group plans to organize events such as a canned food drive and other fundraisers to help those in need.
At any local BLM protest, you can find Britanni Flowers with a megaphone in her hand leading protestors in chants and sharing her story.
Flowers said she hopes the protests motivate law enforcement to require further training to protect those with special needs from excessive force.
“I have a special needs child and that does kind of scare me,” she said. “What someone might see as him trying to walk away is he just wants to get out of the area. He might not be doing anything wrong, but he might come off as nervous to you or like he is hiding something.”
Keeping the protests peaceful is important to Flowers, she said.
“My personal mantra, what I believe, is that love conquers all,” she said. “If someone comes at you with hate, coming back at them with hate only adds fuel to the fire. I love everyone. I love my community. I love this place. Nobody ever changes the world without stepping outside their comfort zone.”
Richarh Tyson, activist and CEO of Channel 27 News and Entertainment, organized a prayer vigil at the beginning of June at Marion City Hall in which law enforcement and the community joined in prayer for peace and justice.
“We’re working things out. I applaud them for that. I applaud (Marion Police Department) Chief (Angela) Haley for putting forth the effort. As far as our local law enforcement, we’re just going to continue to build. We’re trying to do some preventative stuff,” Tyson said. “I want to see everybody come together.”
Katara McCarty, an author, activist, speaker, podcast host and emotional well-being advocate for Black, Indigenous, women of color, spent almost 20 years in Marion.
“Marion is home,” she said. “I raised my kids there. I raised a church there. I have a special place in my heart for Marion.”
McCarty said she works “to cultivate cultures of belonging” for Black and Indigenous women of color, including transgender, queer and nonbinary people.
“Just being born in a brown body, wherever I show up, I have to face racism every day,” she said. “I think that’s something a lot of people don’t understand.”
While McCarty said she experienced racism in Marion, she said Marion is not exceptional.
“Everywhere I go I face (racism) in our nation,” she said. “There were times I had to advocate for my brown daughters who went to a predominantly white private school, things that were said that were completely inappropriate.”
As a black female leader of a church, McCarty said she watched people leave the service when they realized her white husband was not preaching that day.
“I believe that black people wake up every day knowing what we are going to face and we just do it,” she said.
McCarty said she does not think improvements to the systems in place in America are enough.
“I think it’s a dismantling,” she said. “If we try to improve the systems that we have, it’s not going to work. There is a dismantling of white supremacy and racism that has to happen. We cannot build anti-racism on top of racism. It started off on the wrong foot. It started off with enslaved people.”
While McCarty believes a dismantling is necessary, she said she does not think it will happen in her lifetime.
“That makes me really sad, but there’s also that mandate that I feel to do the work anyway,” she said. “If we can do the work then we can pass the baton to the next generation and they won’t have to do as much.”
According to McCarty, the problem will continue until white people see racism and white supremacy as a problem they have to solve.
“Until the collective grabs ahold of that and says this is not just a Black issue, this is a problem I have to be a part of solving, then we will just keep perpetuating and upholding systems that oppress some and benefit others,” she said.
Dr. Gin Love Thompson, a 1988 Marion High School graduate, author, psychotherapist and activist, was a volunteer assistant to the lead PR manager of the Trayvon Martin case.
“That was in 2012. It’s 2020. Why did it take 8 years of having video of black men, women and children being murdered by the police?” she asked.
Thompson said she is impressed with Alfaro and the younger generation.
“They stood out there alone, not knowing if others would join. That’s the true heart of a world changer,” she said. “As a native of Marion, I couldn’t be prouder. Generation Z is not playing.”
As a white woman, Thompson spoke about what she believes should be the role of white Americans.
“Becoming an ally is a buzzword right now. More is required than going on social media and saying you’re against what’s going on,” she said. “It’s a time of reckoning for white America, to take responsibility to do the work that needs to be done.”
About those who claim to be colorblind, Thompson said, “I know they are well meaning, but it’s destructive to say that you’re colorblind. If you’re colorblind, get a referral to a good ophthalmologist. That mind frame is a cop out. It’s dangerous because it keeps whites from doing the work that’s required. Of course we see color. Respect it.”