Peaceful demonstrators in Highlands voiced opposition to the use of excessive force against African Americans and a lack of accountability for law enforcement in support of the Black Lives Matter movement from 2-6 p.m. on Tuesday along Main Street.
Demonstrations and protests have been held across the country in response to the death of George Floyd, 46, who died on May 25 after Minneapolis Police Officer Derek Chauvin pinned Floyd down on the ground holding his knee on Floyd’s neck. Video shows Floyd repeatedly told officers he could not breathe and he eventually lost consciousness and died.
Chauvin did not remove his knee for approx. 9 minutes and Floyd’s death has been classified as a homicide by medical examiners. Floyd was suspected of using a fake $20 bill at a nearby deli.
Demonstrators lined the corners of Main and 4th Streets, with approx. 75 people holding signs calling for an end to police brutality. One of the demonstration’s organizers is Highlands resident Leah Grace Craig who said she set up the demonstration because she wanted to encourage a conversation about this ongoing issue.
“When we set this up, from the get-go it had to be peaceful and we want to thank local law enforcement for their support from the beginning,” said Craig. “With everything going on, we want to respect our town and I’m overwhelmed with the show of support today, it’s exciting. Highlands is ready for a conversation about this. Some people said we were bringing this issue to Highlands, but it’s already all around us, the issue is already here and we’re encouraging discussion over destruction.”
Highlands Police Officer Captain Mike Jolly said law enforcement was aware of the demonstration beforehand and that HPD was concerned with the possibility of organized groups from outside the area showing up to change the dynamics of what Craig’s local group was trying to convey.
“Other than a few passersby who appeared to not understand the tenants of free speech, the event went off without a hitch,” said Jolly. “In response to some of the rumors that rioters and looters were headed to Highlands, we scheduled extra manpower during all shifts to curb any possible looting or violence.”
Jolly added that Craig and her friends did a fantastic job with the organization of the demonstration, and keeping it within the bounds of the First Amendment.
“Our country needs more young people her age to have empathy towards others and a strong grasp of their constitutional rights,” said Jolly. “Highlands Police Department stands in solidarity with the demonstrators in their message that there is no room in today’s society for hate or prejudice. We are proud to serve in a community where that message is expressed by the majority and we would like to thank all of the participants who voiced their support of our department and its officers.”
Macon County Sheriff Robert Holland condemned the actions of the Minneapolis officers at the scene of Floyd’s death.
“The Sheriff’s and Chiefs of North Carolina from the mountains to the coast and I’m sure across this country agree that the actions of these officers are atrocious and should never be acceptable,” said Holland. “It is disgraceful and should be dealt with appropriately in our system of law. The criminal actions of others in response to the death of Mr. Floyd should not be tolerated as well and they too should be dealt with and held accountable. There is no excuse for such lawlessness on either side of the issue.”
Highlands resident David Cline stood proudly on the median at 4th and Main Streets holding a sign reading Highlands Cares.
“I think the message is I don’t want to be silent anymore,” said Cline. “I encourage people with similar privilege to do the same and speak up, that’s why I’m out here today.”
Pictured at the top of the article are demonstrators on the corner of 4th and Main Streets, including organizer Leah Grace Craig second from the right.
Article and photos by Brian O’Shea
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