Unity walk held in Stevens Park

Meghan Flynn
Protesters carry signs as they make their way along the sidewalk around Stevens Park on Wednesday night during a unity walk and gathering. Approximately 1,000 individuals encircled the park block, several people deep, during the march.

“George Floyd.”

“No justice, no peace.”

“Silence is compliance.”

These were chanted by the approximate 1,000 people who attended the unity walk Wednesday night at Stevens Park.

Speakers at the event encouraged the crowd to “stand up” in unity with the community to speak out against racism, inequality and injustice.

Carmen Robinson, one of the event organizers, said the walk originally began as a protest in response to the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis on May 25.

“I thought to myself 'what if that was my family member?' That could have been anybody of the black community that I love,” she said.

Robinson said she wanted to show that little towns do matter in worldwide issues such as racism, inequality and injustice; it's not just large cities.

“It's everybody,” she said. “This is the one time we're actually moving things, we're changing things, so little towns do matter when it comes to fighting for our rights.”

A lot of people were against the idea of a protest, Robinson said. She wanted it to be as safe as possible.

“I wanted families to come out and see the movement, not just us older people,” she said. “I wanted the elders to come and feel safe to fight for what they believe is right.”

In planning the event, Robinson got Javez Baker-Hall involved, as well as the Garden City Police Department.

Baker-Hall said he reached out to the police department not for them to stand side-by-side with them, but for them to “comprehend what's going on in this world and they can sit down and listen to us rather than being against us and not comprehending anything we're saying to them.”

GCPD chief Michael Utz said he wanted to meet with Robinson and Baker-Hall after hearing the rumors of a protest.

They've met with rally or protest organizers in the past, Utz said. Their goal is to make sure the event is as peaceful as possible.

Through discussion at the meeting, Robinson and Baker-Hall made the decision to change it from a protest to a unity walk, Utz said.

“Their intentions were nothing more than to make sure this was peaceful because we wanted to respect their constitutional rights and First Amendment, freedom of speech and freedom to get together,” he said.

Utz said they were glad to meet and speak with them, to find out what they needed from the police and was glad to come participate and “be here in unity to show out support for the cause.”

"As chief of police I was appalled, I was taken aback ... at what I saw (happen to Floyd),“ he said. ”What happened in Minneapolis, it does not align with my professional values, does not align with the police department's values on how to treat individuals. It does not even align with our trade.“

Baker-Hall said when he found out about Floyd's death, he wanted to burn the country down, but didn't because he knew he had to set an example for the younger generation.

“I know that I'm only 24 and we're all young out here, but we have kids, I have two sons myself, and I don't want my sons to live in violence, in a violent world like this,” he said.

Even though it's the 21st century, people are still judging others based on their skin color, Baker-Hall said. That needs to end.

“That stigma there has to change, we have to cut off these generational curses right now and it starts with us,” he said.

Joshua Cooper came the unity walk with his wife and 2-year old son.

A native of Monroe, La., Cooper said he grew up witnessing things that happened to Floyd on a daily basis.

It's one of the reasons why he moved to Garden City in 2010 to play football; he wanted to get away from that environment and start something new — to change his life.

He was upset and angry by what happened to Floyd.

“My thoughts when it first happened is of course it was wrong,” he said. “He was handcuffed, there was no need to stand there and not help him out.”

Joshua Cooper's wife, Desiree Cooper, felt the same way.

“Right then and there when it happened, you knew something big was going to happen following it because it those type of things just keep happening,” she said. “(I felt) I don't know, anger and frustration and sadness, disappointment for just how far things have gotten when it comes to police brutality.”

Joshua Cooper said he loved seeing the community come together to show its support Wednesday night.

“There's no violence, the way it should be, a peaceful protest,” he said. “I think the world should learn from this, because rioting and looting is not the way, we will never get heard by damaging things. Peaceful protest is the way to go.”

Desiree Cooper said she hopes the aftermath of the unity walk and the protests from Floyd's death is the confidence for people to speak out and for police officers to speak out against fellow police officers who are “showing that injustice and showing that biased and racist attitude and to get them out.”

“I'm hoping that it just builds people up to have that confidence to see it and not just ignore it anymore,” she said. “Just respect each other and have the willingness to understand where one person is coming from and ... we all just need to lift each other up and support each other.

Joshua Cooper agrees.

“We need a good outcome of it all and we need everyone to come together, see no race, no color and just love one another because it's getting out of hand,” he said. “The way things are going is out of hand.”

Robinson said she wants the hate to end and for everyone to come together.

“Everyone's the same, we all bleed red,” she said. “You should love your neighbor and I want people to respect each other's opinions, because all I see is hate, and I want people to love each other for who they are.”

While there may be turmoil, good will overcome all at the end, Baker-Hall said.

“This isn't a physical war, this is a spiritual war and good will always prevail, morality will always win,” he said.

Javez Baker-Hall addresses the crowd gathered for a unity walk Thursday in Stevens Park. Baker-Hall is one of the organizers of the event.