Huge turnout for Gainesville’s March For Our Freedom puts spotlight on justice

March For Our Freedom Organizer Aeriel Lane wore a black t-shirt with the word RESIST in white letters across the front.

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Through a megaphone and while standing on the bed of a pickup truck, she said to the crowd gathered at Depot Park in Gainesville on May 30th, “This is a peaceful demonstration. I trust each and every one of you to behave accordingly and hold each other accountable.”

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“Let’s look out for each other,” she said, and then emphasized practicing social distancing. “Please keep your masks on.”

The crowd practiced chants. “Black Lives Matter,” they chanted in unison. “Hey baby, black lives matter to me and my world,” was another chant.

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In masked-covered faces, standing shoulder to shoulder, they also practiced a call and respond chant. “I believe that we will win.”

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  “There are medics here on bicycles in red vests,” Lane announced to the crowd and then made her way to the front of the line which started to slowly head out of Depot Park on a path toward Bo Diddley Plaza.

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Hundreds of signs were decorated with a range of messages. “Stop Killing our Black Brothers, Class Struggle is Black Struggle, Solidarity Forever, I Am No Longer Accepting the Things I Cannot Change I Am Changing The Things I Cannot Accept, Stop Using Your Privilege To Kill, George Floyd Mattered.”

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The crowd headed up Main Street chanting “No justice, no peace. Prosecute the police.” Horns were blowing in support of the march from nearby vehicles.

With no room for distancing, hundreds of demonstrators crowded into Bo Diddley Plaza, not all, but a majority were wearing masks.

“Ya’ll know why we’re here,” Lane addressed the crowd. “I wish George Floyd was here. I wish Breonna Taylor was here,” she said and asked the crowd “who else?” and they yelled out names of people killed by law enforcement. “It’s too many,” Lane said.

“I don’t know why we keep ending up here,” Lane said and asked the crowd to take a moment of silence to think about ways to pay tribute to lives lost and how to solve the problem.

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The crowd raised their fists in unison and in silence and then listened to a performance of the song “Still I Rise.”

The crowd was asked to think about their ancestors and sang “Ancestors watching, I know they’re watching. Ancestors watching, I know.”

Lane spoke last at the event. She thanked City of Gainesville officials and the GPD for “Keeping their distance.”

“I never anticipated that it would be this big,” Lane said. “But I think we’re starting a movement.”

The peaceful protest that attracted about 3,000 people, according to the Gainesville Police Department, was not without incident.

GPD reported that William J. Connelly, 64, was arrested and charged with six counts of aggravated assault. Connelly drove at protesters after refusing to alter his driving path, GPD stated. Connelly brandished a firearm at the protesters and was quickly located by officers and taken into custody.

The night before the March For Freedom, GPD Chief Tony Jones addressed the death of George Floyd from a podium in front of Gainesville City Hall.

“The death of George Floyd is alarming,” he said. “My prayers go out to Mr. Floyd’s family.

“The action of the officer that I saw in that video is not in line with the training, and it’s not in line with the philosophy of the Gainesville Police Department,” Jones continued.

 “If you don’t have trust, you don’t have a partnership,” Jones said about police relations in a community.

“What I saw in that video erodes trust of police, not only in that city, but around this particular nation.”

Jones then said that the community can expect and he demands of law enforcement to practice the “three Cs.”

“Compassion,” he said. “Every individual that we encounter is a father, mother, son or daughter just like us.

“Consistent,” he said. “We want to be fair and consistent in carrying out our responsibilities.

 “Constitutional,” he said. “What I saw on the video, and I don’t have all of the facts. That doesn’t appear to be constitutional.”

Jones then made a promise to the Gainesville community.

“We will continue to take a proactive approach,” he said. “To build a partnership with our community, to make every effort to prevent a tragedy that we’ve seen on the news from occurring in Gainesville and Alachua County.”

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