By Dan Spalding
WARSAW – Upward of 90 people – a mostly young and diverse crowd – came together in Central Park Saturday afternoon for an overwhelmingly peaceful protest supporting the Black Lives Matter movement.
The rally was a sharp contrast to protests in Minneapolis, Detroit, Indianapolis and elsewhere where vandalism and violence were rampant in recent days as many called for justice in the death of George Floyd, an unarmed man who died in police custody after a white policeman kneeled on his neck for nine minutes.
Two organizers who led the Warsaw protest repeatedly urged the crowd to remain positive and upbeat, which they did as they participated in chants and spoke out on megaphones at the Central Park Plaza on the south side of the park.
While there were some middle-aged folks, most of the crowd appeared to be in their upper teens and in their twenties.
Nearly everyone carried signs and many wore masks because of the pandemic.
They chanted oft-heard phrases associated with Black Lives Matter.
“No justice, no peace – prosecute the police,” was one of the common chants.
They called for police reform and unity. And they repeatedly called for “white allies” to support the cause.
Ofelia Rios, 26, one of the organizers, said she’s from Warsaw, and decided to get involved because she’s “fed up” with injustices against people of color.
“We’re here to support George Floyd and the black community,” Rios said. “We’re upset with his death, but we’re not upset with our own police department.”
Maria Medina, 26, the other organizer, told the crowd at one point that they cannot continue to ignore the issues of police brutality.
“We are here speaking out in solidarity with the black community. We see you. We love you and we are here for you,” Medina said.
Elgin Smiley, a 29-year-old black man from Warsaw who was wearing Tupac shirt, said he loved the turnout.
He said he was encouraged by support from white people and others because it gives the movement a bigger sense of community.
“When you get all these kinds of people with all these backgrounds, that’s what’s giving us a bond. To me, that is a turning point,” Smiley said. “Hopefully, 2020 is the turning point.”
Makaela Whitlfeld, a 19-year-old Warsaw resident, watched the protest and held a sign that read “No More Silence.”
She said Saturday marked the first time she attended such a rally.
“I’m just really tired of black people losing their lives for no reason and I just wanted to be here to show my support for fellow black people in our community and show them that we are here for them and we are their allies and that we are going to support them all the way in a peaceful manner.”
Jennifer Castillo, of Nappanee, brought her 9-year old son, Maurice Carson III to the protest. The youngster, who is bi-racial, held a sign that read “I’m on the right side of History!”
Castillo said she worries about her son’s future.
“There are things I can’t prepare him for, honestly,” Castillo said. “I don’t know how he’s going to be treated and that’s what breaks my heart.”