By Dan Spalding
WINONA LAKE – The third round of local protests in nine days supporting Black Lives Matter involved fewer signs and zero chants. Instead, they focused on numerous calls to action.
More than 150 people gathered in the Winona Lake Park on Monday, June 8, for another peaceful rally packed with personal stories and a range of suggestions for changing how people should handle racist personal interactions to lobbying for police policy initiatives.
More than one speaker pointed to the racist comment that came to light last week when an African American poll worker was called a “token black” by a white Republican poll inspector on Election Day in Warsaw.
The incident led to an apology from the Kosciusko County Republican Party, but several noted that nobody who heard the comment at the time said anything in the woman’s defense.
The situation, some said Monday, exemplified the need for people to stand up when such incidents arise.
“She was devalued by this person and when nobody spoke up for her, she felt completely alone,” said Jeanne Stafford-Phipps, who spoke to the crowd. “We realize that it’s going to take more than pasting a black square in our social media pages to really make a change in our country.”
Those who want to be allies need to speak up when they see black people being mistreated. In the case of the poll worker, those who heard the comment should have demanded an apology, she said.
“When we are with a group of other white people who are disparaging black people and making racist comments, we need to cut it off. Let people know we will not tolerate it. Take that somewhere else,” Stafford-Phipps said.
The rally also included people of color who told the crowd of their instances of harassment.
One of those was Jalen Roscoe, 27, who played athletics while at Warsaw Community High School. He recalled the rude remarks he endured at school and then told of the day that he was driving his teammates around selling discount cards for the football team.
After they got back in the car, he was pulled over by police who told him they received a complaint that he looked suspicious.
“I’m wearing my Tiger Football jersey, but somehow I still looked suspicious and I never understood that,” Roscoe said, at times getting choked up while addressing the crowd. “I’m so glad my white teammates were there that day because I could have been George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Trayvon Martin or Eric Garner.”
He urged people to no longer “sit in silence and watch from the shadows.”
“We must work to be an example of how we as brothers and sisters in this country and this town must treat each other,” he said.
Zoie Lamar talked about the benefits of white privilege while contrasting examples with a long list of innocent activities that led to the deaths of blacks in police custody.
“Please hold people accountable in your community,” she told the crowd.
Mike Beard, Warsaw, 43, described himself as a white guy with a pickup and urged others to “get comfortable with being uncomfortable” if they want to make a difference.
He urged people to stand up to police unions that “stand idly by and let bad cops stay on the street.”
“We need to change the way we train our police,” he added.
Travis McConnell, one of the organizers, recapped with the crowd what steps can be taken to invoke real change. Stand up to racism. Hold elected officials accountable. Teach your kids. And don’t forget.
Maria Medina, one of the organizers from the first two protests, said she did not plan to attend Monday’s event, but ended up addressing the crowd.
“This is more than just protesting. This is about actual change,” Medina said. “We can come out here and act a fool and what is that going to do? That’s going to do nothing. We need to show our community that we are 100 percent in it to win it and that we understand change might not happen tonight, it might not happen tomorrow, but this is the strategy.”
White allies need to be willing to talk about dismantling anti-blackness that’s prevalent in the area.
“That’s what solidarity is about. It’s about stepping outside of your comfort zone. This isn’t something where we hold hands and sing kumbaya,” she said. “America has been way too comfortable in this situation and clearly, our community was not ready for us to stand up and speak on it. That’s why they have an issue with us.”