In recent weeks, the solidarity movement sparked by the police killings of Michael Brown and Eric Garner has spread to cities across the country; it finally hit Lafayette over the weekend with a march protesting the rise in excessive force incidents involving police.
Drawing about 40 protestors, Saturday’s rally started by the fountain at Parc Sans Souci and moved near the parking garage for a series of speakers who delivered similar messages on police-involved killings and why it’s time for a change. Protestors then marched down Jefferson Street amid the monthly ArtWalk, baring signs with messages like “Eric Garner ... I can’t breathe.” A “die in” also was staged near the Acadiana Center for the Arts as protestors laid out on the concrete as if they’d just been shot by police.
In a quote from The Daily Advertiser, 23-year-old John Merrifield says his inspiration for organizing Saturday’s rally was born out of anger from what’s become a trend nationwide, starting with Michael Brown’s killing over the summer by an police officer in Ferguson, Mo. Following Brown's death, tensions escalated even further when a grand jury recently refused to indict Darren Wilson, the officer who killed Brown. That was followed with a nearly identical outcome in Staten Island, NY, where another grand jury refused to indict Daniel Pantaleo, the officer involved in Eric Garner’s death, despite a cell phone video that captured Pantaleo throwing Garner in a choke-hold as well as Garner’s repeated pleas of “I can’t breathe.”
Merrifield says like many people across the country, he’s angry, telling the Advertiser, “How can you look around at what’s going on around the country and not be angry?”
In recent years there have been a number of police killings involving Acadiana law enforcement agencies, though none have sparked the same level of outcry as seen with the deaths of Michael Brown and Eric Garner. Of all the local cases of police killings, one name did appear on several of the homemade signs seen during Saturday’s event: “Victor White III ... Handcuff Homicide.” (Go here for more on Victor White III’s suspicious death in the back of an Iberia Sheriff’s cruiser earlier this year, which did gain some national attention, albeit briefly.)
With Saturday’s event targeting Downtown, a second rally is set for this coming weekend to take the protest to Lafayette’s south side, starting near the Target on Ambassador Caffery followed by a march to Acadiana Mall.
According to a Facebook post, the event's organizers say the rally will be an effort to:
[H]onor those whose lives have been negatively affected by the gross misconduct of officers.
If you believe that police training and expectations needs [sic] to be reformed to reduce bullying, negligence, assault, and murder, this protest is for you! The power that officers hold needs to be “checked” by another entity to balance it out. Every human has inalienable rights, and officers need to uphold the law ETHICALLY as agents of the state. #CheckYourRacialBias #PoliceReform #EndImmunity #WeCanChangeThings #BlackLivesMatter