Rally in Vienna: Protesters plan to march in support of BLM after a racist social media incident

By George Wiebe, Staff Reporter

Since the death of George Floyd on May 25, communities all over the United States have taken action to address injustice through various means, whether it be protests and marches through the street, riots and looting, or social media trends.

Among these communities taking action is the Southern Illinois Unity Coalition.

Founded by Nancy Maxwell in an attempt to bring multiple groups of people together in the southern Illinois region, the Unity Coalition has organized several protests in support of Black Lives Matter. 

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The group’s next rally is to be held at 2 p.m. on Sept. 27 in response to a recent incident that occurred at Vienna High School, where a group of students started a Snapchat group called “we hate Black people”.

The Snapchat group has since been taken down.  

The incident in Vienna High School has sparked complaints by parents and coalition members alike.

Maxwell said the school’s response, or lack thereof, was not enough. 

On Sept. 23, Vienna High School superintendent Joshua Stafford posted on the school’s facebook page, a statement over recent events, outlining school policy regarding racism and offering a message of openness for students of any background.

“We take supporting all of our students and their needs seriously. We also take any act of racism seriously and follow through with all appropriate steps including contact and communication with all appropriate officials, contacting the parents of students that we are able to determine are affected, ensuring appropriate consequences and disciplinary action, among many other key steps in order to address, educate, and eliminate racism,” Stafford said in the Sept. 23 statement. 

Brandee Lasley, a mother in the area brought this incident to the attention of the So. Ill. Unity Coalition over Facebook.

After this response the Unity Coalition publicly announced via Facebook that it would be holding a march in Vienna. 

Lesley said the announcement was not met with a universally positive response.

“Since the locals have found out about this, they really seem to think that we are trying to bring destruction and violence,” Lasley said. “This is meant to be a peaceful rally; in no way condoning violence.”

The protest on Sunday in Vienna will differ from the previous protests that the Unity Coalition has organized in Carbondale, Murphyboro, or Marion. 

Once a “sundown town,” Vienna has had a history of segregation, which organizer Matt Wilson said has sparked some anxiety.

“We have a fear that this protest will gather more counter protesters. We’re going to go there, do what we have to do, and leave before sunset,” Wilson said.

Wilson, a 29-year-old SIU alumnus, is the media director for the So. Ill. Unity Coalition.

Wilson described the coalition as a group of community members coming together.

“None of the communities are diversified. Almost all the police departments are void of color as well as many elected official offices,” Maxwell said of the organization’s purpose. 

When asked why now, Maxwell said it was because the attention and outrage sparked by George Floyd’s death woke many around the country up to the injustice that takes place daily. 

It is hard to tell the lasting impact many of the protests will have across the United States, but Maxwell said things seem to be moving in a  positive direction.

“We’re working on our relationship with the police department, it’s not great but it is better than before,” Maxwell said.  

Southern Illinois has not currently had an incident similar to that of George Floyd or Breonna Taylor, and the Unity Coalition said its hope is to keep things that way. 

Members said they believe that by holding protests, marches, and even variety shows that display communal unity, they can make a difference.  

“Black people have to work twice as hard to be half as good, and that’s what I feel I’m doing,” Wilson said. “I am a black life that matters.”  

 

Staff reporter George Wiebe can be reached by email at [email protected]

To stay up to date with all your southern Illinois news, follow the Daily Egyptian on Facebook and Twitter.

 

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