LAFAYETTE, La. – “I can’t breathe.” “Black lives matter.” “No justice, no peace.” “Hands up, don’t shoot.”
Chants such as these were heard along Johnston St. and University Ave. in Lafayette Sunday as protesters lined the sidewalks and spoke out against the death of George Floyd, who died Monday in Minneapolis after a police officer pressed his knee into Floyd’s neck even though Floyd could not breathe.
The demonstration was one of several in Louisiana over the weekend as civil rights activists here joined in with the protests sweeping across the country. Protesters also took to the streets in New Orleans, Baton Rouge, Shreveport and Monroe.
Crowds gathered at Girard Hall at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette where members of the host organizations spoke. Then they stood on the sidewalks before marching to the Lafayette Police Station at the end of University Ave.
Mark Mallory, a UL student, helped organize the protest and spoke to the crowd in front of the hall. Mallory said he was there in solidarity with anyone fighting for justice around the world.
“We must be ready to lose the world as we know it and survive together into the new one,” he said.
The Lafayette protest was organized through a Facebook group hosted by local organizations like the NAACP.
NAACP Lafayette President Marja Broussard also addressed the crowd. She offered her condolences to the families of those killed by police violence and said she stands with those in Minneapolis.
“The brutal and horrible murders of George Floyd, Breanna Taylor and Ahmad Arbery have shaken the United States of America,” Broussard said. “Words cannot accurately describe what that feels like.”
“Today I’m filled with hope and expectation as I see young folks, old folks, white folks, brown folks, black folks… don’t see no blue folks, but you get the picture,” she said.
After hearing from the speakers, the crowd waved signs and chanted to cars driving by.
Youngsville resident Whitney Harris said he attended the demonstration because he believes America could be better.
“I’m here because I’m an African-American male who believes that violence against African-American males has gone on for too long and that it hurts the whole society when one group is targeted,” Harris said. “I’m here for George Floyd because his life did matter.”
Lafayette Mayor-President Josh Guillory stood in the grass in front of Girard Hall behind the protesters. He said he supports the rights of the crowd to peacefully protest and voice their opinions to local leaders.
“None of us here support any police brutality or what happened in Minnesota,” Guillory said.
Guillory said he is proud of police officers in Lafayette and of the training they receive for situations like the one in Minnesota. He said that the best way to prevent what happened to Floyd is through training.
Interim Lafayette Police Chief Scott Morgan said the crowds were not larger than expected and that about 40 Lafayette police officers were at the protest.
“We’re not trying to be intrusive, so we don’t have a bunch of police officers trying to shut them down,” he said.
“As far as preparation for this, you’ve got to understand there’s only a small percentage of the people that would actually do the stuff that’s going on in Minnesota,” Morgan said, referring to the looting and arson that has happened along some of the protests. “We’d really like to think that our community is not filled with that element.”
Guillory said he is proud of the city and parish for the peaceful protest.
“The message is loud and clear: we will not stand for what happened in Minneapolis, and the people in Minneapolis do not stand for what happened to Mr. Floyd,” Guillory said. “Let this day be a day of healing.”
Lafayette Chief of Minority Affairs Carlos Harvin stood alongside Guillory during the protest.
“The heart of our nation is broken today,” Harvin said, “and so we’re praying for the healing of the United States– that we can heal from this tragedy and that what caused Mr. Floyd to die, that that would never happen again.”
Trey Mamou of Sunset described the atmosphere at the protest as “amazing.” He praised the community for coming together against the injustices happening across the country.
“It’s everybody– whites, blacks, Indians, Hispanics– all coming together for one thing, and I think that’s the purpose of all this,” Mamou said. “Everybody’s saying ‘Black lives matter,’ no matter what color you are, no matter what race, no matter what gender.”
“If we make our voice known, change is inevitable,” Mamou said. “It has to happen.”
LSU sophomore and Lafayette native Leah Espinoza attended the protest alongside her mother and sisters..
“I think staying silent is just as bad as staying on the opposite side of the argument,” Espinoza said. She said the protest inspired her to have more of a voice in calling out racism.