‘Seek Equity and Justice’- Southern Illinois Peace Coalition holds protest against racism and militarized policing

By Brooke Buerck, Sports Reporter

Community members joined a protest organized by the Southern Illinois Peace Coalition on Saturday to speak out against racism and militarized policing. 

The protest, held at Carbondale’s town square, followed demonstrations held across the country and the globe in the wake of the death of George Floyd.

Around 40 demonstrators held signs on the sidewalk at the intersection of Illinois Route 51 and Route 13 as hundreds of cars drove by, some honking, waving and cheering in support. 

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Georgeann Hartzog, a member of the peace coalition, said the organization’s vigil was to “Reject Racism and Militarized Policing: Seek Equity and Justice,” as well as advertise for the Poor People’s Campaign, which was originally started in 1968 by civil rights activist Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. 

“We’ve been working on issues of militarism, justice, human rights, foreign policy for all these many years now,” Hartzog said. “With this continuation of violence against black bodies by people we’re paying, and people we’re paying well to do it, I think people are finally starting to see,” Hartzog said. 

Hartzog said she believes the death of George Floyd has shaken people. 

Jyotsna Kapur, a member of the peace coalition for nearly 20 years and an SIU professor of cinema and photography, said she believes it is important for the community to stand with its Black members. 

“I think the country is in turmoil, […] and I think our Black friends, neighbors, colleagues, are feeling a lot of anger, pain, and hurt, and it’s important that we come and stand with them and show them that [they’re] not isolated and that we hear you, we see you,” Kapur said. 

Kapur said she believes spending on the military and police should be reprioritized towards institutions such as health and education. 

“We need people in the community to take care of each other, to protect and serve as the police say, but I don’t think an armed group of people who identify so strongly with their institution rather than with citizens, is the way to go,” Kapur said. “We need to reprioritize. I think this pandemic has shown how important it is for all around the world to reprioritize, to back off from the military expense.”

Linda Flowers, president of the Carbondale chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, was seated with a small table at the demonstration to help register individuals to vote. 

Flowers stressed the importance of voting, saying that “unless all of this concern, all of these protests result in action, it doesn’t matter.”

Flowers said the Carbondale chapter of the NAACP has been helping with voter registration as well as encouraging and educating community members on the importance of participating in the 2020 census. 

One way Flowers said the community can see change for the better is if citizens continue to speak up. 

“If this crowd, the crowd yesterday, go to city council meetings and encourage and demand some changes like that, then it would be for the positive work out for the citizens of the community,” Flowers said. 

Flowers said she is encouraged to see young people speaking up in the community. 

“I heard someone say, people of my generation are not out here today because we’re in that vulnerable population with some underlying medical conditions, so to see the young people concerned enough to organize that very successful protest done yesterday, I’m encouraged,” Flowers said.

Brittany Scott, a recent SIU social work graduate who held a sign that said “Black Lives Matter,” said she believes in higher education for police. 

“I’m really here to say that I really think that a positive change as far as higher education [goes] is needed for the police,” Scott said. “And just learn how to work with people and understand where they’re coming from and approach [them] different.”

Scott said seeing others in the community start to open their eyes and care more empowers her to get out and join as well. 

Scott said a way to see change in social justice is to be “invested in those [disadvantaged] communities, and try to make it more equal, acknowledging that there aren’t a lot of the same opportunities or those opportunities are overlooked, even if you have the same qualifications.”

Tyler Knupp, who studies computer science at SIU said he recognizes that not all feel safe in the presence of police. 

“To be comfortable around a police presence is also a privilege, and people need to realize that not everyone feels safe around police because of all the brutality that happens just on the basis of being black or non-white,” Knupp said. “Freedom means nothing until everyone can feel safe in their own homes.”

Zynn Moore, who studies languages, cultures and international trade at SIU said he was at the protest  in solidarity with the Black community.

“Personally, I’m here in solidarity, because, as a queer Jewish person, I recognize the status of black people in this country and that they’re disadvantaged and that people are actually dying and it needs to stop,” Moore said. 

Both Moore and Knupp said they wish to see actual political change arise from protesting. 

Sports reporter Brooke Buerck can be reached at [email protected] or on Twitter at @bbuerck25.

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