‘Silence is not sustainable’ – Peaceful Black Lives Matter protesters call for monument’s removal
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Decatur, GA — In what was Downtown Decatur’s second protest this week, hundreds of people gathered around the Confederate monument outside the Dekalb County Courthouse on Friday to call for the monument’s removal and support the Black Lives Matter movement taking place in Atlanta and across the country.
The demonstration was organized by Tayla Myree, a recent graduate of Syracuse University and 2016 alumna of Druid Hills High School, and her mother, Cherese Myree.
“I wanted to help her organize a protest and she expressed interest,” Tayla Myree said standing next to her mother at the bandstand in the Square. “We’re advocating for Black Lives Matter and making sure we’re getting out and making sure that our voices are heard. Clearly we’re both two fantastic beautiful Black women here, and wanted to make sure that everyone knows that our lives matter, that our brothers’ lives matter, that our uncles’ lives matter, that everyone in those spaces’ lives matter, and we need to continue to advocate and fight for this specific movement in different ways.”
Myree continued the narrative that has become prominent within the past week, that “it is not enough to just not be racist; we must be anti-racist.”
“I’m of the other generation, I’m not Gen Z,” Cherese Myree said, speaking to a crowd of younger activists. “But what I am is a Black woman, I’m a daughter, I’m a mother, I’m a grandmother, I’m a sister, I’m an aunt, I’m a human being. My life matters, your life matters, but we have to have a conversation about Black Lives Matter. Why? Because it wasn’t being had.”
“It’s one thing to march, it’s one thing to make a sign, it’s another thing to take action,” she continued.
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Cherese Myree has been a Georgia resident since 1988 and is a graduate of Clark Atlanta University. Her children graduated from Druid Hills High School.
“[Tayla] had a big part in informing my activism because she protested at her university against racism against marginalized students,” Cherese Myree told Decaturish. “Supporting her in that work kind of opened my eyes and motivated me to continue to speak out. It’s always a subject of discussion. It’s nothing new for us. What motivated me to be here was, of course, another killing. The thing that happened with Ahmaud Arbery, he’s 25, my son will be 25 on June 17. That could’ve been him. … We can’t just sit by and be silent. At the end of the day, people call for certain types of protesting, and call out protests that Martin Luther King did, but let’s not forget that they assassinated him. So, everybody’s got a voice, everybody’s path is different. So, my path may not be your path, but everybody’s got a path to the same end.”
The demonstrators distributed flyers including a list of names of people who had been killed by white supremacy and a list of demands.
The list of demands:
– We demand the immediate passage of HB246 through the Georgia House and Senate which would put an official ‘hate crime’ law on the books in Georgia. Georgia is one out of four states that do not have hate crime laws.
– We demand local representatives to put pressure on the United Nations to ‘classify the mistreatment of Black people in the U.S. as a human rights violation, aggressively call out the U.S. government in the process, and impose sanctions if necessary.’ (Demand made originally by the NAACP)
– We demand the immediate repeal of SB 77 which legally protects Confederate monuments erected in public spaces in Georgia.
– We demand the immediate removal of the Confederate monument in Decatur Square, monuments that pay homage to white supremacy do not belong in public spaces.
Wielding a mint-green megaphone and a powerful voice, Tayla Myree led a march around Downtown Decatur.
“I have a lot of energy, so please match my energy!” Myree had told the crowd.
The crowd joined in chants such as “When Black lives are under attack, what do we do? Stand up, fight back,” “No justice, no peace,” and “Hands up, don’t shoot.” Local workers, patrons, and residents waved and cheered from their patios and porches as the march passed.
Incumbent Sheriff Melody Maddox, whose name will be on the ballot on June 9, and Chief Deputy Randy Akies also marched with the protesters and joined in the chants.
As the march reconvened around the monument, Tayla Myree made space to recognize Breonna Taylor, who would have turned 27 on June 5.
“Let’s sit on that for a minute,” she said. “You go home after a day of work, and you close your door and go to bed, and you’re murdered in your sleep. That’s the reality of being a Black woman in America. That’s the reality of being a Black man in America, that’s the reality of being a Black transgender person in America, that’s the reality of being a Black nonbinary person in America.”
Another protester hugged Myree and thanked her.
Myree then passed the megaphone to Sheriff Melody Maddox, who said, “I want you all to know that I will hold each and every last one of our [officers] accountable. Black Lives Matter. I’m a grandmother of two African American boys. I have five brothers, African American. One nephew who’s going off to college in California… I never thought in my 53 years of living on this Earth that I would have to call my nephew and give him a class on how to respond, how to react, what to do, what not to do. But I can tell you that just as long as I hold the seat of Sheriff, it won’t take place under my leadership. I operate under excellence, accountability, and respect.”
“My daughter graduated from a Dekalb County school, my grandchildren are in Dekalb County, so I have a vested interest in here. But not just here, for all. The Dekalb County Sheriff’s Office is about to become the agency for justice reform. … We see you all, we hear you all,” Sheriff Maddox said.
“Liar,” someone yelled from the crowd.
“Breonna Taylor could’ve been my daughter. George Floyd, he called out for his mom, could’ve been my nephew. And we’re gonna do this together, but we need you all’s help. Don’t let one or two give all of us a black eye,” Sheriff Maddox said.
“How about the monument behind you?”
“We don’t want a speech, take down the monument!”
“Do you endorse the demands?”
Protesters questioned the Sheriff as she left but didn’t receive a response.
“We have a national issue, and we have an issue right here in our backyard,” Cherese Myree said, continuing to speak from the bandstand. “We have an anti-lynching bill that is still being debated in 2020. And then behind you is a constant reminder of white supremacy in this country. I look at that and I see ancestors, I see family members that have worked to build this country … We’re not having it. So, what are we going to do about it? There’s a law on the books forbidding Confederate monuments from being moved. What are you prepared to do about it? We gotta move it, right? We gotta pass legislation for it to be moved. Once the law is passed, we want it out of here. No questions asked.”
“So that’s why we’re here, to dismantle white supremacy,” Cherese continued. “It’s systemic in households, it’s systemic in school systems, it’s systemic in businesses that you patronize on a regular basis. What are you prepared to do about it? Boycott, have a sign, fight. But you need to vote on Tuesday because it’s more than the White House. … A mother buries her child every day to foolishness. That foolishness is racism. That foolishness is police brutality. That foolishness is injustice.”
Cherese Myree emphasized that she wanted the members of Gen Z to speak on the issues and share their experiences or additional action items.
“The way I organize, my philosophy, my framework is from Black feminist radical insurgent politics,” Tayla Myree began. “Angela Davis, Assata Shakur, radical Black women fighting the good fight. Radical Black women, part of the Combahee River Collective in the 80s. Radical Black women like Kimberlé Crenshaw who came up with intersectionality that’s not a buzzword for white feminism. Let’s check that. Intersectionality is so important and has been co-opted to just mean intersecting identities. But we need to understand the true meaning of what intersectionality is. We identify intersectionality not to compare our struggles, not to fight about our struggles, but to stand in solidarity with our struggles. So, if I see people overseas dying from imperialism, I’m going to open my mouth. If I see people overseas dying from military brutality in the Middle East, I’m opening my mouth. If I see people in Appalachia dying from capitalism, I’m opening my mouth. Because solidarity is extremely important. All of our struggles are interconnected. All of us are suffering under these systems.”
She spoke over the roar of a news helicopter circling the Square.
“Police brutality impacts all of us. The police state impacts all of us. The surveillance state impacts all of us,” Tayla Myree said. “So, it’s not a simple knee on the neck. It’s not a simple lynching. It’s not as simple as being in the United States. It extends to Africa, to Europe, to South America, to Oceania, to Asia. This country has arms of white supremacy that reach outside of this country.”
She encouraged the demonstrators to use the hashtag #DismantleWhiteSupremacyGA to make demands for elected officials.
Precious Douglas spoke next, wearing a handmade t-shirt with a number to text.
“I’ve been spending the last few days in a real deep depression,” Douglas said, crying as she spoke. “Completely tired of consistently having to fight for my own survival, as well as my family’s survival, and it’s incredibly exhausting. But with this pain, I have found enough within me to try and plan and properly organize us in the future. We are completely dismembered. There is no unionized front for all of us forward at all. We have different demands across the nation. We need to come together with different local organizations and make a list of demands that we can all get behind and demand them to the federal government.”
She asked demonstrators to text LOVE2020 to 44222 to get organized and formulate a list of demands.
Anthony Miles, wearing a Howard Alumni t-shirt, spoke next.
“A friend of mine, an African-American woman, was telling me the other day, she was expressing her frustrations about how she felt like it wasn’t her responsibility to have to explain to white people her worth, to have to dismantle white supremacy in word form, in explanation, to white people who may not understand,” Miles said. “But I was trying to explain to her, it is going to be our responsibility — I’m speaking to Black people in particular right now — to tell people who have a heart, who really want to know how they can help, it is our responsibility to give them things that they can do, to give them ways that they can assist. The young lady who was up here just now, who said she was exhausted, I truly understand, but that’s the burden we have to bear right now. To tell them that ‘Black lives matter’ isn’t saying that nobody else’s life doesn’t matter. … We just want equal protection under the law. So my call-to-action for Black people is this: if a white person or any other race wants to know how they can help, do not become so frustrated to the point that you don’t give them the information that is going to help our movement. Go ahead and educate them. Awareness is education.”
Lukka Wolff led the crowd in a moment of silence for eight minutes and 46 seconds, representing the amount of time former Minneapolis Police Officer Derek Chauvin kneeled on George Floyd’s neck. The roar of the news helicopter above and the other noises of the downtown area grated against the silence.
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“I’m glad we took the time to see what can happen in eight minutes,” Cherese Myree said. “When I looked online to see what you can do in that amount of time, it was things like, plan your day. Come up with your to-do list. Call a friend and chat. All that time that we spent here, that people had to get comfortable with, you were able to get up. George Floyd wasn’t able to get up.”
A man who did not identify himself spoke about his experiences with the DeKalb County Police Department.
“I just want to say as someone who was personally brutalized by the Dekalb County Police and falsely imprisoned for a week, thank you for the solidarity that you’re expressing here today,” he said. “I’m not going to pretend to have all the answers, but I will say we cannot be pacified by conciliatory language from public figures. We have to look at their record and we have to hold them accountable and look at their actions not just today and the next week when the news media is looking at them, but in the days and weeks and months and years that follow. Many times, we have been given promises that things are going to change, and things are going to be better, but the status quo remains.”
Demonstrators chanted a list of names of people who have died “at the hands of white supremacy, fighting for civil rights, waking up in the morning, going to work, and trying to go home, people who have died laying in their bed.”
The list of names included those who have died from police brutality, but also Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcom X.
One protester’s sign read “Police brutality is a public health emergency.”
Tayla Myree reminded the crowd to vote in the primary election on Tuesday, June 9 if they haven’t already.
Myree and her mother passed out handmade flags reading “Black Lives Matter” and encouraged the demonstrators to stick them in the grass around the monument.
The demonstrators also taped handmade signs including lists of names and demands over the monument and some wrote slogans in Sharpie.
One demonstrator, Erica Johnson, said, “I could’ve been Breonna Taylor.”
“If stuff like this doesn’t stop, one day I could be, or one day my friends or my family could,” Johnson said. “So, I’m here to turn down white supremacy, I’m here to tell them Black Lives Matter, that we have dreams, we have aspirations, we have hopes for the world too.”
A resident of Decatur for just over a year, she said she wasn’t aware of the law prohibiting the removal of Confederate monuments. “That blows my mind, that’s crazy to me that something representing so much hatred can’t be taken down.”
Madi Reynolds, a Black student who attends St. Pius X, a private Catholic high school in Chamblee, said she fights against “a lot of racism, a lot of old money and old ways” at her school, which she said is “95% white.” She’s lived in Decatur for six years and previously is from “the west side, Fulton County.” She was burning a stick of sage around the Confederate monument. “I’m super into rituals and witchery, so the sage is kind of bringing good omens to this situation, and kind of bringing the juju for Black Lives Matter and for the statue itself to get knocked down.”
Tayla Myree’s degree from Syracuse University is in Political Science and History with a minor in Atrocity Studies and Social Justice Applied Practice.
“It’s a really long, extra name for genocide studies,” she said. She plans to move to Vienna, Austria in August to attend Central European University to study Comparative History. “I do Holocaust studies with a focus on Romani studies and Afro-Germans, so I want to continue doing that research.”
Considering her stance on police abolition, Decaturish asked what Myree thought of the speech by Sheriff Maddox.
“I wanted to be respectful,” she said. “I felt uncomfortable, but I also feel like other people needed to hear that other comforting voice. At the end of the day, if you are still going to be with the police, it’d be nice to have good police, people who are focused on pursuing justice. If we have our local police department holding people accountable, that would be great.
“But I also did personally feel like uncomfortable … I feel like a lot of police in the U.S. in this moment are kind of co-opting spaces, and basically utilizing it as a message, as opposed to really taking it into account and giving people space to grieve, giving people space to do this. We don’t really need to hear your voices right now as police officers, even if you are a Black police officer. Even if you identify with our community, there’s still Black police in Dekalb County that have murdered other Black people. There’s the situation of APD where those two HBCU students were tased by Black police officers. So, at this point, I think police officers’ space and place is to listen, to take notes, but I don’t think we need public reassurance. I would just much rather you do what you say you’re gonna do. … I think it was comforting for some people, for people who still have faith in that system. I’m just not personally one of those people.”
Also, in attendance at the demonstration was one of Tayla Myree’s teachers from Druid Hills High School, U.S. History teacher Vincent Gray, who Myree cites as an inspiration for her work and her studies.
Myree was co-captain of the policy debate team, and Gray was also their coach.
“That’s where I really learned a lot of this theory — critiques on neoliberalism, critiques on white feminism, learning Black feminist theory. It’s really great to have outlets and spaces to engage and learn about those things in a serious manner and really engage with them on another level,” she said.
She cites one of Mr. Gray’s required readings, “A People’s History of the United States” by Howard Zinn, as being particularly formative for her. After grad school, Myree hopes to become a documentarian and eventually a professor of history.
There’s another protest planned in Decatur for this Sunday, June 7, at 1 p.m.
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