Protesters will walk through downtown Fulton on Saturday to bring attention to racial injustice.
"It's going to be a peaceful protest to (bring attention to) the injustices of minorities around the world," event organizer Aleigha Turner said.
The protest is a response to the death of George Floyd, a black Minneapolis man who died in police custody May 25 after a white officer knelt on his neck, as well as police brutality of other African Americans and other issues of structural racism. Since his death, protests have erupted all around the world — including in Missouri, where they've cropped up in nearby Jefferson City and Columbia as well as larger cities. Many protests have been free of violence; a handful have featured looting and property damage. At others, police have been filmed shooting tear gas, rubber bullets and pepper rounds at peaceful protesters and journalists.
Turner, who lives in Auxvasse but works and has family in Fulton, is expecting and planning for a peaceful event Saturday. Protesters will gather at 6:30 p.m. in Memorial Park near the Splash Pad, where sign-making materials will be available. Social distancing measures are encouraged.
"We're not providing masks at this point, but they're encouraged, and if people want to hand them out, that's great too," Turner said.
Participants will have a chance to take turns speaking.
"We'll be letting community talk, have the mic, share their experiences and get the word out about injustices that might be going on in Fulton," Turner said. "I encourage storefront owners to come down and speak, hand out business cards. This isn't designed to scare storefront owners even though we'll be walking past their buildings."
At about 7:45 p.m., the group will walk up Court Street, turn right on St. Louis Avenue and come back down Market Street to gather at Fulton City Hall. Market Street will be closed to vehicles between St. Louis Avenue and Fourth Street during the march and members of the Fulton Police Department will help direct traffic elsewhere along the route.
Turner said she'd reached out to a number of business owners along the route to give a heads-up and suggested they could show solidarity by passing out water or holding a supportive sign in front of their business.
"I want to bring to attention that this is not just about #BlackLivesMatter but a good way to support the community during COVID-19," Turner posted on the event's Facebook page. "Store owners can and should promote their businesses and will have a chance to be heard and show their support at Memorial Park, in these trying times!"
The event will continue until participants are ready to head home, she said. She encouraged participants to dress for the weather and stay hydrated — temperatures may be in the upper 80s Saturday evening. She also suggested wearing at least one high-visibility clothing item or carrying a brightly colored sign to reduce the chance of accidental vehicle collisions, as the event may extend past nightfall. Water and snacks will be provided.
Turner said she's contacted Fulton's Chief of Police Steve Myers, Mayor Lowe Cannell and other local officials about the event.
"They let me know we have their full support in this, and they want things to go safely," Turner said. "Some officers will be marching or taking a knee to show support and that they understand what is happening. It's a big one, that I can tell people that Fulton's chief of police is on our side and not against anything we're doing."
She said she's never had a negative experience with local law enforcement; outside Fulton, she's had negative and positive encounters.
"I intend to let it be known, it's not us against the cops, it's us against racism," she said.
Cannell said the city doesn't have a specific permit for protest marches, but after providing information about the plan, Turner has received the official go-ahead. He said the city has been assured the protest will be peaceful and hopes that holds true, though "from what we have seen in other cities, we have to prepare for some of the other possibilities."
"I feel that just because we are a small community and don't have the same problems as inner cities, we still have a responsibility to see what's going on in our country," he added. "When we see what happened to Mr. Floyd, it should disgust every one of us. We need to sit down at the table and work together to try and understand why these things happen. Call me optimistic, but we have an opportunity for change in this country and it can start in little towns just like Fulton. I support this protest and pray for peace in our land."
Turner said she's still looking for additional speakers, especially anyone who can speak on Fulton's history with race issues or share information about voting rights. She can be contacted through the event's Facebook page: bit.ly/2Bqzmg2.