Most of the time, and even more so recently due to the COVID-19 virus, Moulton is considered busy if we have more than three cars backed up at a traffic light. Saturday was an exception to that rule.
It was a beautiful day to be out and about, usually a time of leisure and recreation, but there was something else on the minds of the many people who chose to spend their Saturday bringing awareness to the public about things other than the beginning of summer. Amid many smiles and encouraging chanting, the seriousness of the event was not lost on those who showed up to support the Black Lives Matter movement that is sweeping the country and beyond our borders into the global community.
The shocking public murder on a city street was cause for consternation among people of all races. It was a crime that brought attention to the plight of police brutality, a subject that has gotten much attention since the murder of George Floyd in Minnesota.
East Lawrence graduate, Shantella Wright, was among several speakers who gave impassioned accounts of those murders. Wright spoke eloquently on the courthouse square to a respectful, orderly and diverse crowd gathered there. She followed Mayor Roger Weatherwax, who greeted and welcomed the crowd, and Sheriff Max Sanders who was there representing Lawrence County Law Enforcement. Sheriff Sanders walked alongside the group as they came down Market Street from the Board of Education to the courthouse square. Also speaking were emcee Rev. Timothy Perryman of Freeman Tabernacle Baptist Church and Bobby Diggs of the local NAACP, as well as Moulton City Councilwoman, Cassandra Lee who also spoke with a passion and a conviction to help make things better for everyone. “Today we march for change and we stand for justice,” said Lee, who insists that the problems some cities see could be averted by being proactive rather than reactive. “Police brutality must go; knees to the neck must go; not being able to breathe must never happen; white entitlement must go. Black Lives Matter. A change has to come! We must be proactive versus reactive.”
Also on the agenda were Chief Deputy Tim Sandlin, educator Monja Parker, Lymos McDonald, former LC NAACP president, Jack Steele, current president of the LC NAACP, Jan Turnbore, Lawrence County commissioners Bobby Burch and Jesse Byrd, and attorney Jerome Thompson, who also expressed their willingness to be part of the solution. Each of them in turn expressed their gratitude for the law enforcement officials who took time out of their busy schedules to attend the event.
Shantella Wright spoke to the crowd about how she, as the mother of a small son, has experienced the feelings of her counterparts who often have both a need for police intervention and a fear of that intervention. “As a mother to a young black man in America, it hurts me to know I have to hug him a little tighter, tell him I love him an extra time, and check on him more every time he leaves home because I fear he may come across the radar of a cop having a bad day with nobody else to take it out on.”
According to a recent article in the Los Angeles Times, about one in 1,000 black men and boys in America can expect to die at the hands of police, according to a new analysis of deaths involving law enforcement officers. That makes them 2.5 times more likely than white men and boys to die during an encounter with cops.
The analysis also showed that Latino men and boys, black women and girls and Native American men, women and children are also killed by police at higher rates than their white peers. But the vulnerability of black males was particularly striking.
“That one-in-1,000 number struck us as quite high,” said study leader Frank Edwards, a sociologist at Rutgers University. “That’s better odds of being killed by police than you have of winning a lot of scratch-off lottery games.”
No one takes for granted that there is and always will be a critical need for police intervention when crimes are committed. That’s everyone’s initial response when they see someone breaking the law, and as it should be, else we would all become like the vigilantes in Georgia who tracked a young jogger down in a pickup truck and shot him, again, in broad daylight on a city street. But the appearance of a member of the police or sheriff’s deputies might cause fear in a black person that a white person never knows unless they are the perpetrator of a crime.
Video cameras have forever changed the way we look at these crimes. In years to come, people who might have otherwise walked away from misuse of authority will never again be so sure of their ability to commit these types of crimes without being caught on tape by someone or by security cameras. Those cameras will also prevent the guilty from claiming police brutality where none existed. It works both ways.
This is a good thing for everyone concerned. Love, hate, humility, spite, equality, racism, jealously and just plain good or evil come in all colors and the ability to tell the difference often depends on the actions shown by people on both sides of the law. Does this mean we turn a blind eye to the criminals in our midst? No, it means we all need to turn a more careful, considerate eye toward more peaceful solutions to all kinds of problems that arise when there is interaction between people from all walks of life, and especially between those who have dedicated their lives to protecting and serving their communities. Are there ‘bad apples’ in all barrels? Sure there are, and no profession, religion, the arena of sports of all kinds, is immune to those ‘bad apples.’ Who would have thought that the gentle sport of ice skating could turn as violent as it did in the mid-80s when figure skater Nancy Kerrigan was brutally attacked by an assailant sent by her rival, Tonya Harding? Violence is everywhere, like it or not, and it is up to us as a society to find solutions that are better suited than brutality and murder.
One way of changing the way things that ‘have always been’ is to start a dialog between people who are concerned not only about black lives, but about all lives, including the lives of the millions of people who are dedicated to serving and protecting their communities. Those dialogs will also serve to form a bridge between communities so that concerns can be addressed. According to Lawrence County Sheriff Max Sanders, Saturday’s event went smoothly. “Our office met with local NAACP leaders and the county police chiefs prior to the event and we were not expecting any trouble, and were impressed with the crowd which was very peaceful. We want to continue those meetings after the threat of the virus is over,” said Sheriff Sanders. “And we invite anyone who has concerns to come to us and we will address those concerns together.”
Saturday’s event, more a peaceful community walk than a riotous protest, was organized by the Lawrence County Chapter of the NAACP, led by its president, Jan Turnbore. “It was very much appreciated,” said Wright. “Our community needed to feel the presence of the movement.”
Wright, a 2010 East Lawrence graduate, went on to earn her associates degree in science from Calhoun Community College in 2013, followed by a bachelors degree in English literature and marketing in 2016 from the University of Alabama in Huntsville. She also received her real estate license in 2018, is the author of three children’s books and a self-help book for those seeking better job hunting skills, and is a yoga instructor. She currently serves as the Economic Director of the Lawrence County chapter of the NAACP.
While at UAH she and a friend restructured the outdated NAACP chapter on campus. “I love UAH, it is a wonderful school, but there wasn’t a minority voice for students there, so we provided one for them,” said Wright.
Wright is concerned for people of any race who fear the police because of the color of their skin. “I feel as though the murders that have happened impact us tremendously and it could have easily been someone we knew. I’m glad we were able to come together and stand with pride. I really enjoyed having so many different races there to support and care for the Black Lives Matter movement. It takes a lot of courage to stand up for people that aren’t like you.”
Wright has a foot in both worlds, she is biracial, and has experienced both racism and a feeling of being on the outside looking in, seeing the concerns of both sides but also experiencing a sense of isolation when she was younger. “I went to 14 different schools until I finally enrolled at East Lawrence,” she explained. “It was there, finally, that I felt that I had found a place where I fit in. I was very comfortable there.”
Because of her willingness to tackle the many different roles she plays, taking the initiative to continue her education, and a desire to improve herself and her community, as well as her strength of character and her convictions, plus the sense of pride obvious in the way she carries herself, she has been successful on many different levels. She is a real estate agent who owns her own business, in addition to being the director of the Economic Board for the local NAACP. “I was approached by one of the county NAACP leaders who offered me a job as the Economic Board chair because of my background in real estate,” she said. “The organization wanted fresh eyes, a new perspective on things.”
The mother of a beautiful little boy, Marley, she is active as a young leader in the community. She strives to make a good life for herself and her son, and for others in the community.
In summing up the success of Saturday’s rally, Wright said, “We appreciated and valued the love that was shown. I would have done it 100 times if I needed to. I’m glad my voice was heard and I was able to speak for my family, peers and community.”
“If we don’t make some changes in our country we will always live with this fear, we will always worry,” she said.
If you are interested in acquiring copies of Wright’s books you can email her at email@example.com “I am willing to donate the children’s books to anyone interested,” she said.
Wright concluded her part of the program with this poem she penned for the occasion:
In honor of George Floyd
He couldn’t breathe so now I have to do it for him. Like 400 years ago when we were taken and brought into danger.
I can’t feel the waves against the boat but I can feel the anger.
I can’t feel the whips and chains but the pain still lingers.
I can’t feel the noose get tighter or the board from my feet be swept away but somehow, I still can’t breathe.
I can’t taste the food that was cooked for you but I will no longer swallow my thoughts.
I can’t touch my baby that was sold or the husband that was given to the house down the road but I can still feel the distance, it’s called my resistance.
I can’t see the way you raped my sister but I can see the biracial queens walking today.
I can, feel my morals. I can, taste my victory. I can, touch my beginning! It’s feeling kind of hot. I can see my tomorrow, but first I WILL BREATHE, whether you want me to or not.
-Shantella Wright 5/25/2020