As violent protesters clashed with law enforcement across the country this weekend, a crowd gathered for a peaceful Black Lives Matter protest in downtown Sedalia, Saturday afternoon.
Protest organizer Rachel Whanger, of Sedalia, told the Democrat on Friday the event was to be peaceful and due to the COVID-19 pandemic, she was urging participants to wear masks and observe social distancing guidelines. She organized the protest in light of the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis last week. He died after he was pinned to the ground by a police officer using his knee on Floyd’s neck.
“Race has always been an issue,” said Whanger, a case worker/community support specialist at
Burrell Behavioral Health. “I do focus a lot on politics, but racial matters have always been a passion of mine and it has always been bothersome to me.
“I have been a Sedalian off and on for all my life,” she continued. “I have been back here for a little while, and I just think that it’s important that we support our community and to rise up together to fight some injustices in the world.”
Whanger said she spoke with Sedalia Police Chief Matt Wirt and he was on board with her plans for the protest.
“He was very supportive,” she noted. “I wanted him to know this is not a ‘hate all cops’ kind of situation. This is justice for those that their lives have been lost and to bring justice to their killers.
“Not all cops are bad,” she continued. “I have never felt that way. I know a lot of good cops. But these murderers who are hiding behind badges that’s a whole different ball game, than the good cops that protect and serve.”
On Saturday, Whanger was accompanied by Elder Noah Poole who also spoke to the crowd and prayed over them on the steps of the Pettis County Courthouse. During the event only two people became disruptive and tried to talk over Whanger as she was speaking. Both Whanger and Poole were able to deescalate the confrontation and one individual left the protest.
“If you’re not part of the solution, you are part of the problem,” Poole told the participants.
Poole asked the crowd if anyone else would like to speak. Ruth Dale, a white Sedalia school teacher, addressed the crowd and said her heart breaks for mothers who don’t know if their sons will come home.
“My son left home and went to war, and I thought I might never see him again,” she noted. “But so many mothers in this group worry about that every time their sons go out. And that is wrong.
“We can pray, but we need to listen, and we need to read and get information,” she continued. “I have just joined a group called ‘Be the Bridge’ on Facebook. And, I am listening and I am watching interviews with women of color, and I’m trying to understand the different culture.”
Dale added that she wouldn’t be able to make a difference until she understands.
“Please read, please look up information about antiracism,” she told the crowd. “I am a racist because I am white and I was born in America, and I fight it every day. Please join me in listening and standing with our neighbors.”
As the event began, the crowd followed Whanger with handmade signs as she marched north on Ohio Avenue to Third Street, then back south to Fifth Street. The group marched up Osage Avenue to West Broadway Boulevard, then proceeded east to Lamine Avenue and back to the courthouse.
Joni Dillon, of Sedalia, spoke to the Democrat as she walked up Broadway Boulevard about why she was at the protest.
“… This country was founded on freedom,” Dillon said. “So, in a country that’s been founded on freedom, it bothers me that so many people lack that. They lack it not for anything they’ve done, but for being born a certain color or coming from a certain country.
“Nothing much has changed since the civil rights,” she continued. “That would frustrate me as a person of color that people say it’s changed, the laws say it’s changed. But in reality, very little has changed.”