OPELIKA – Over 250 people turned out Saturday on Courthouse Square to march for peace in the aftermath of civil unrest and the recent deaths of black Americans at the hands of police.
The marchers – old, young, black, white and brown, with some in strollers and others leaning on canes – circled the square for an hour, chanting for justice and peace.
“Black lives matter!
“Black lives matter!
“All lives matter!
“All lives matter!”
“We’re out here for black people all around the world and the U.S., in the communities,” said march organizer Jecorey Purifoy, who led the people around the square for an hour in the noon sun. “Just support, that's what we need right now – support – and I'm here to help my brother and help my sister in any kind of way that I can.”
Purifoy has lived in Opelika since 2013, working at local Verizon call center. He got the idea for the protest Friday evening and started reaching out to friends on social media about it. Mayor Gary Fuller told him that a peaceful protest would be fine, even without the city permit. The only police presence Saturday was a city cruiser parked on the south side of the square.
Many of the marchers spoke up about the Monday death of George Floyd under the knee of a Minneapolis police officer, which has sparked violent protests across the country this week.
“I’m here for these guys. I’m not from here either, but it’s not right what that cop did to [Floyd],” said Jesus Gonzales, who came out with his family to participate. “It’s unacceptable what he did. I’m here for these guys.”
Beverley Green marched for peace for everyone
“It’s all not just black and white, you know, we all bleed red,” said Green. “It’s a humanity issue. I don't care if it's a black gentleman, a white gentleman or any person it is … it's a beautiful thing to see so many people from all different ethnicities are saying the same thing – that we just want to live in peace and harmony with one another.”
Purifoy and Opelika city councilwoman Tiffany Gibson-Pitts gathered the crowd around the fountain just before 1 p.m., concluding the event with the Lord’s Prayer.
Purifoy hopes to keep the local conversation going. He encouraged marchers to gather again Sunday at Toomer’s Corner in Auburn for another observance.
That 1 p.m. event will be a “silent witness that we in Auburn don’t approve of what’s going on around the country, in Minneapolis or Louisville or in Georgia,” according to organizer Chris Rothbauer.
However, anyone who wishes to speak is welcome to do so; it just won’t be Rothbauer.
“Since I’m white and not from around here, I want to make sure folks know I’m there to listen to any black folks who want to speak,” Rothbauer said.