MORGANTOWN — Michael Jackson started talking with his son about interacting with the police when he was about 11. Jackson, who is 40 years old and biracial, told his 15-year-old son to shut his mouth, follow orders and be compliant because the smallest thing can make a situation go wrong and being young won’t save him.
Look at Tamir Rice, a 12-year-old killed by Cleveland police for carrying an Airsoft rifle.
“I try to impose on him and make him understand is that he has to be darn near beyond reproach, almost perfect, two times better than the next man to move forward in life and to be safe,” Jackson said. “And if you think about it, that’s a crazy type of conversation to have with your child.”
“This issue is a major issue, and it’s not just George Floyd, although in my opinion this is the straw that broke the camel’s back,” Jackson said. “I felt like if everyone was going to be out supporting the movement, I need to be here and be an example of peaceful protest.”
At times, Black Lives Matter protesters stretched around three sides of a Morgantown block while marching Tuesday.
An estimated 500-1,000 people showed up to the protest in support of the movement and to stand against police brutality on the heels of George Floyd’s death. Floyd, an unarmed black man, died May 25 when a white Minneapolis officer, Derek Chauvin, pressed his knee on the handcuffed Floyd’s neck for more than eight minutes.
Organizer Sammantha Norris said she didn’t expect so many people to come out.
The protests were non-violent all day, and officers from the Morgantown Police Department were rarely seen, not even creating a chance for conflict between protestors and law enforcement as seen in other cities across the country during the past week.
“Every time there was an escalation, we de-escalated it,” Norris said.
One example: There was a white man, supporting the movement, who Norris said had in the past acted in a racist manner to people he was protesting alongside, and some people were upset by his presence.
“But instead of letting that anger continue, we stopped them, we talked to them. … There was a young man that imparted the power of growth and of change and of empathy and forgiveness,” Norris said. “Every time there’s a white person that used to be racist and now is not, that’s a win. It’s a step in the right direction.”
The crowd was diverse and featured people of all races and ages, but it was black voices attendees aimed to amplify. Black people shared their stories, their pain and their experiences with racism.
People such as Cherish Heard, 20, of Morgantown.
Tuesday was Heard’s first protest. To her, this time it seems different, because so many people are standing together against police violence.
Heard said she has experienced racism here in Monongalia County. She’s been refused service from stores. She’s been called the N-word in school. And in the end, nothing was done, she said.
Now, Heard wants to see policy changes and people in government who care about people of color and achieving true equality.
A common theme among protesters was that there needs to be a culture change in police departments and true criminal justice reform — not just a few cases here and there.
The protest started at 10 a.m. in front of the Monongalia County Courthouse and was still going on as of 4:30 p.m.
The group alternated marching around downtown Morgantown on High, Pleasant, Walnut and Spruce streets and returning to the courthouse to share stories and rest.
One march took the group to the front of the Justice Center, then across the Westover bridge and up Holland Avenue into Westover.
Chants were loud, honks from cars in support were frequent and the message was clear: Black Lives Matter.