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Peaceful Protest Planned In Marshall County; Organizers Receive Threats

Hope Davis

A Marshall County couple is planning a peaceful protest in response to the deaths of black Americans at the hands of law enforcement in Kentucky and throughout the nation.

Hope and Dwaylon Davis are an interracial couple residing in Marshall County. Hope Davis said while her family has largely avoided racist comments and harassment, the need for “growth” in the community is apparent. 

“We personally have not had any bad problems, but we have definitely seen the need for some growth and open communication. We have attended some protests in some nearby counties and we’d actually seen that people were making fun, Marshall Countians at that, were making fun of the fact that nobody cared enough to protest here,” Davis said.

The protest is scheduled for June 5 at 5:30 p.m. on the lawn of the county courthouse in Benton. More than 200 individuals have marked themselves as “interested” or “going” on a Facebook event launched for the demonstration. 

Davis said her family has received multiple threats in response to the planned protest. 

“We have been told a lot of vulgar words and that I need to shut my mouth, that we should know our place, and even that we should leave the county.”

Davis said the threats do not discourage her from using her voice, but rather embolden her to create positive change in the community. 

“We love this county. We love our town. We’ve been here, we’re not going anywhere. We see a need for improvement and we will just push through and do the best that we can,” Davis explained. “This is a family-friendly, peaceful protest. This is not ugly. It can be a very beautiful thing if people are willing to be open-minded.”

Local leaders are working to create a safe environment for the protest. Benton Mayor Rita Dotson said a primary concern is out-of-town agitators that could jeopardize the peaceful nature of the demonstration. 

“It seems like so many of the protests have started out peacefully with good intentions, and then the next thing you know, there’s issues, there’s violence and properties being destroyed,” Dotson said. 

Dotson said Benton Police Chief Stephen Sanderson met with Marshall County Sheriff Eddie McGuire Wednesday to develop a plan to keep protestors safe. She said roads along the court square will be restricted to allow for the safe movement of protestors. The Benton Fire Department will assist local law enforcement agencies with crowd protection. 

“We’re very optimistic that there won’t be any issues, but we have to be prepared in case there are,” Dotson said. “We’re provide safety and peace for the protest. Just hoping they can get it done peacefully and move on to a different city, I guess.”

Marshall County Attorney Jason Darnall is the county’s misdemeanor prosecutor and legal advisor to the fiscal court. He said he supports the county residents looking to exercise their rights under the First Amendment. 

“That’s really what our country was founded upon, was the right to express ourselves and gather peacefully and let your feelings be known,” Darnall said. “That’s exactly what people who feel strongly about this should be doing: going out and gathering peacefully.”

Darnall said he doesn’t believe the protest will turn violent.

“I’ve lived here all my life and Marshall County’s full of great people. I’ve seen some of the organizers behind this and some of the people who’ve said they’re gonna go, and I’m not worried in the least,” Darnall said. 

Marshall County Third District Commissioner Monti Collins also weighed in on the protest, saying racism is real and dialogue is necessary to learn more about the experiences of others. 

“Those who want to peacefully protest deserve to do so and I truly hope this is a time where we can all agree that it is a time where we can all learn to live together in the greatest community in the United States in my opinion,” Collins said in a statement.

The demonstration comes in the same week as protests in Murray, where a man assaulted protestors with a chemical irritant. Hundreds gathered in Paducah last week to express their anger toward the slayings.

The Benton protest will coincide with the birthday of Breonna Taylor, the black woman killed by Louisville Metro Police Department officers serving a “no-knock” warrant.

Dalton York is a Morning Edition host and reporter for WKYU in Bowling Green. He is a graduate of Murray State University, where he majored in History with a minor in Nonprofit Leadership Studies. While attending Murray State, he worked as a student reporter at WKMS. A native of Marshall County, he is a proud product of his tight-knit community.
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