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Paducah Protesters Express Anger In Recent Killings Of Unarmed Black People

Liam Niemeyer

 Hundreds of people gathered in Paducah’s Bob Noble Park on Sunday and marched through the city to call for justice for unarmed black people who were recently killed including George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and Ahmaud Arbery. The overwhelmingly peaceful protest saw people express frustration and anger over police accountability, but some also hinted at hope. 


  Protesters, most wearing masks, began the protest lining Park Avenue in front of the park holding signs that read, “Black Lives Matter,” and “No Justice, No Peace.” They also chanted the names of those recently killed. 


“I want to be able to stand up for what’s right. Not just for Breonna, not just for George,” said Areanna Orr, a black college student from Paducah who led some of the chants. “If somebody is murdered, they need to be held accountable, period.”


Many protesters pointed to what they say is an undercurrent of racism and white supremacy among some law enforcement and society as a whole that’s resulted in the recent killings. Others were concerned over a perceived lack of accountability and disciplinary actions among police. Some protesters expressed anger for feeling as if their voices are unheard by elected officials, both local and national.


As large crowds took to the streets marching along Park Avenue, protesters disrupted traffic as officers with the Paducah Police Department (PPD)  followed closely. One of the protesters was Bryson Brooks, a black man who graduated from Paducah Tilghman High School in 2018. 

His shirt depicted Colin Kaepernick, a civil rights activist and professional football player known for kneeling during the national anthem at NFL football games in protest of police brutality and racial inequality. Brooks said he’s a part of the Kappa Alpha Psi fraternity at Georgetown College, a chapter of the same fraternity to which Kaepernick belongs.


“Colin Kaepernick is my frat brother. And I know the principles he was raised on and he’s made out to be. Therefore, I know he did everything with good purpose and a good reasoning,” Brooks said. “Seeing something like this where I can walk alongside a caucasian and call him my brother and speak and protest and walk alongside him to protest the same thing, it means the world to me. It can bring tears to your eyes if you just take a step back, honestly.”


Officers allowed protesters to march through streets and didn’t use crowd control measures used by departments in other cities including tear gas, pepper spray and rubber bullets. But tensions rose as the afternoon protest continued into the evening, with PPD cars blocking protesters’ paths through some intersections. 


Marchers at one point reached the statue of Confederate General Lloyd Tilghman, a historic memorial in the city. As police cars surrounded the block, protesters chanted from the steps of the statue.


“They’re terrified that we’re going to take down their statue, but why is it up? Why is it here,” said a black woman from Paducah, who declined to be named out of a general fear of reprisal. “We’re peaceful. I’m fighting for my life. I’m fighting for my brother’s life. They don’t care about us. And if we don’t care, who’s going to care?”


Credit Liam Niemeyer / WKMS
Protesters at the statue of Confederate General Lloyd Tilghman.

Several protesters declined to give their full names or be identified throughout the protest, many out of fear about potentially being targeted by law enforcement. A feeling of agitation and anger toward PPD officers grew at some moments during the protest. 

Some protesters threw water bottles at a police car at one point, causing the car to drive away from the scene and sparking a dispute among protesters about how they should be treating police.


“It’s us against them. [Police] got a job to do. If we’re going to do something positive, it’s got to stay positive. The moment you bring the negative in, that’s they job. Don’t force them to do their job, because when they do their job, they do it excessively,” said LaVar Holt, a black man born in Paducah who spoke to the younger protesters who threw bottles at the police car. “If you come in with a demand of respect, nothing comes back but respect.”


(Update: WKMS learned on June 3 that LaVar Holt's legal name was Richard Dillard. Dillard was arrested by the McCracken County Sheriff's Office for outstanding warrants on June 3. Dillard had told several media outlets, including WKMS, his name was LaVar Holt.)


The incident stemmed from a larger theme throughout the protest of a divide among some marchers. Some advocated for keeping the protest respectful toward local law enforcement, while others were more willing to voice their anger toward Paducah police. 


Black church leaders who spoke to the crowd in the Bob Noble park pointed to the ballot box as a way to make change. Paducah city leaders issued a letter on Saturday saying they were willing to listen to protesters and were committed to community-oriented policing. Many marchers said while they appreciated the letter, they want to see action instead of words.


Credit Liam Niemeyer / WKMS
Black church leaders (right two) raise their fists at Bob Noble Park.

“They got to hear us one way or another, so this is a way,” said Martaj Marks, who said he helped organize the protest. “I think they’re going to be like, ‘Wait a minute, we need to listen.’ We need to do something about this. I don’t know exactly what it's going to change, but we’re doing something.”


Correction: This article previously misspelled the name of Martaj Marks.


"Liam Niemeyer is a reporter for the Ohio Valley Resource covering agriculture and infrastructure in Ohio, Kentucky and West Virginia and also serves Assistant News Director at WKMS. He has reported for public radio stations across the country from Appalachia to Alaska, most recently as a reporter for WOUB Public Media in Athens, Ohio. He is a recent alumnus of Ohio University and enjoys playing tenor saxophone in various jazz groups."
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