The political outcry throughout the nation over the deaths of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor at the hands of police officers in Minneapolis, Minnesota, and Louisville reverberated Sunday in Paducah.
What was originally planned as a protest and prayer meeting in Noble Park sprawled into a march and demonstration across most of the city with as many as 1,000 participants. Chants of “No Justice, No Peace” and “Black Lives Matter” were heard throughout the event that spanned much of the evening.
“We’re going to be able to stand and appreciate the multiplicity of people that are concerned with the mistreatment of the blacks,” said Pastor Anthony E. Walton of Paducah’s Christ Temple during the prayer segment in the park. “We appreciate that all lives matter but right now the black houses are on fire.”
After brief words from organizers, area pastors, chants and a march to 13th Street and back, many of the protesters blocked Park Street off, disrupting traffic for the better part of 30 minutes.
From there, a second march began, one that wound it’s way through midtown and downtown past Circle Park on Fountain Avenue, the Paducah Police Department on Broadway to the McCracken County Courthouse.
Zack Kiefer, a 17-year-old Paducah Tilgham High School graduate, said he appreciated as a young black man being able to participate in something “truly groundbreaking.”
“I needed to see this, because I haven’t been around this before,” Kiefer said.
He said he was pleased with the turnout from the white community, and saw their support of the cause as a step in the right direction. “We’ve all got to be together, and not against each other,” he said.
During the march, law enforcement officers could be seen along the road blocking off and directing traffic as necessary.
Before the march — which was an unplanned and spontaneous aspect of the protest — Paducah Police Chief Brian Laird spoke with The Sun.
“It needs to be good, positive conversation about these things. So I think as long as it remains that way things can be accomplished,” Laird said. “I think the key is recognizing that what happened in Minnesota to George Floyd was wrong and shouldn’t have happened.
“That’s the way I feel and that’s the way law enforcement feels here in Paducah. We know that that’s not what we train and that’s not what we do.”
While no major organizations were behind the mass protest Sunday, the local NAACP chapter released a statement regarding it earlier in the weekend to ask attendees to remain peaceful and respectful.
Retired U.S. Army vet Delvonne Bevineau thought Sunday’s protest came off beautifully.
“Paducah Police Department came out and blocked the streets off to make sure nobody got hurt or hit. I couldn’t ask for nothing better,” Bevineau told The Sun. “Peaceful protest is how it should be. Why go out and destroy something? It’s not making a stand.
“All it’s doing is hurting people. Going off fighting and destroying and looting and all of that — that’s not the way to go.”
Paducah native Kyle King said he saw the event as positive and could aid in helping racial relations in the city.
“We need more positivity, and I think this is what we need to come together as a city,” he said.
For King, racism is alive, but “very much concealed,” and he said he saw the protest as a platform to bring the issue into the open.
Dominique Young, a biracial mother of a 4-year-old, said she wanted to live in a place where people didn’t have to be scared because of their skin color.
“I shouldn’t be scared, my neighbors shouldn’t be scared, my family shouldn’t be scared,” she said, taking aim at the counter-slogan of “All Lives Matter” that some have used in response to the Black Lives Matter movement. “All lives don’t matter if black lives don’t matter.”
For a full gallery of photographs from Sunday's protest, click here.