Dozens of community residents and out-of-towners gathered at the Chanute Main Street Pavilion Tuesday evening to be a part of the We Are Chanute: United Against Racism demonstration, organized by Chanute High School students Bryan Ayala, Alyssa Andoyo, Jillian Vogel, Grace Lewis and Aaron Rodriquez.
There were several coolers of free water, a donation table for race-related charities, a voter registration table sponsored by the League of Women’s Voters, and an information table sponsored by the Neosho County Democrats. Those in attendance donated about $40 to these causes.
Most people were wearing masks due to COVID-19.
The purpose of the peaceful demonstration was to shed light on the racial struggles black people have endured and to maintain solidarity despite the current strife, including the viral video of unarmed George Floyd, a black man, being murdered on May 25 by then-Minneapolis Police Officer Derek Chauvin, a white man.
Other recent tragedies sparking outrage, protests and change on the police and political levels are the cases of Ahmaud Arbery and Breonna Taylor. Arbery, another black man, was hunted down, shot and killed on Feb. 23 in Georgia by a couple of vigilantes, Travis McMichael and Greg McMichael, both of whom are white. Taylor, a black woman, was shot and killed in her sleep by a raid of police on March 13 in Kentucky after officers executed an arrest warrant for two people already in custody.
“Remember, the best form of activism is exercising your right to vote,” Vogel said to the crowd Tuesday evening. “Tonight, we want to unite our community in an effort to combat racism. Unfortunately, our country operates under a corrupt system that conditions us to equate black people to crime. Our goal in fighting this experience is to educate our audience, and give them tools to educate those around them. The first step in combating racism is merely starting the conversation. With our amplification of black voices tonight, we hope that you can learn and grow from this experience. Help us empower people of color in our community.”
Signs share feelings
Crowds brought signs that read, Silence is Compliance, All Lives Matter, No Justice, No Peace, Matter is the Minimum, I Believe there is Only One Race, the Human Race, Cops Need Consequences, Black Lives Matter, Laundry is the Only Thing that Should be Separated by Color, Make America Not Racist 4 Once, and Breonna Taylor, Tamir Rice, Tony McDade, Mike Brown, George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, Sandra Bland, Emmett Till, MLK Too Many Others!!! White Supremacy KILLS, White Silence, ALLOWS IT, Black Lives Matter.
Everyone bowed their heads for a moment of silence for Floyd, Taylor and Arbery.
The first guest to speak was Fort Scott Community College professor Jared Wheeler, a white man. Wheeler said in his opening statement that in his college courses, his students are predominantly young black men, and that played a huge part in his decision to speak out. Wheeler said he was just as outraged as the rest of the country when the Floyd video came to light, and his primary role at the peaceful demonstration was simple: to help dismantle systemic racism in about 15 minutes.
Wheeler’s motivation for the 15-minute statement was from conversations he’s had with his daughter, a student at Royster Middle School, and others about the Floyd video and systemic racism dating back to slavery and Jim Crow days.
“...Those are things done by generations we are ashamed of, we’re embarrassed by,” Wheeler said. “Should we tell our kids those are the things that took place back then? Because back then, people didn’t know any better, even back then in the past, if you had any inkling of humanity, or even a belief in a religious system, no matter who you pray to, Jesus, or Buddha, Muhammad or Allah, or the queen of heaven herself, Beyoncé, no matter who you pray to, you should have had some sort of inclination this should not take place, whether it’s back then or if it’s now.” He talked about Ahmaud Arbery, and he said ‘that’s some 1930s stuff,’ referring to lynching.
Wheeler also spoke about a moment in his class when he asked several black students to share stories about moving to new places. Several of his students revealed that they were followed around in Walmart and even pulled over by police officers based on what the students perceived to be racial profiling. And even though those students were well aware of what may happen based on the color of their skin, whether it’s being called a racial slur or being treated differently in the community, those unfortunate situations still happened.
“I understand why it can be difficult in the communities to welcome people like my students that are different than us. They look different, they talk different, they have different sounding names, wild names like George, wild names like Emmett, Martin, Malcolm, Breonna, Sandra, Trayvon, Tamir, names like that,” Wheeler continued.
Wheeler admitted he was not privy to all the details of systemic racism. To help him better understand his students, every semester Wheeler does an exercise in which he asks his students what the American dream is to them in an effort to prove that white privilege is real. Wheeler said his students pictured white families with 40-hour a week jobs, nice homes and cars.
Wheeler elaborated about his young daughter, who has enough information by now to question why unarmed black folks are being murdered senselessly. One answer he gave to his daughter was that white people are afraid of black people because they don’t want white supremacy eradicated.
Today’s white supremacy is interconnected with slavery and how folks thought about currency and those shackled, which were once one in the same, Wheeler said. The goal, he said, is to be better than supremacy and to do better. What helped him realize that white supremacy and white privilege are real were the mission trips he went on as a young youth pastor. Wheeler admitted that these efforts were at times to make him and his group to feel better, rather than to actually do better.
Wheeler said the goal was to get to the point of “if you know better, then you do better,” and instead of trying to debate or combat another person’s plight, just apologize and open your ears to listen.
Justice, truth needed
The next speaker was former Faith House Director Murray Satterfield, a black man. He is originally from Richmond, Ind., and spoke about his parents teaching him to be respectful, no matter what color skin a person may have. Satterfield had a white best friend in grade school, and when his friend’s brother was stabbed with a machete by a black person, Satterfield was blamed because of the color of his skin. From then on, the community blamed Satterfield and the relationship between the two boys was never the same.
In the 1980s, when Satterfield was in junior high school, he said kids would fight him just because he was black. But that attitude hasn’t gone away, as just a few months ago, he said an old lady opened her door and said “Nigger, get off my porch.”
In a parallel event, Satterfield said as an officer for the sheriff’s department in Fort Scott, someone berated him, saying he was a traitor to the African-American community. Then he spoke of what’s going on today.
“People are angry, rioters are destroying businesses, leaders are demanding justice. Repeatedly the media is showing forcible restraint by the police, the deceased, George Floyd. It’s a horrible thing that happened, and there should be justice, truth,” Satterfield said. “Over Memorial Day weekend in St. Louis, there were at least 19 shootings and four deaths. Chicago had 49 shootings with 10 fatalities and most of these are black-on-black crime. Where was the outrage? Where was the leaders protesting? Where was people protesting to minority leaders and screaming about the brutality of violence and demanding justice for the deceased, for the imprisonment of the perpetrators, truth. Seems like the death of a black man is newsworthy, and only offensive if the predator is white, truth...”
Satterfield went on to say that these conversations need to be had within the black community, despite networks broadcasting these killings on a daily basis and many activists, politicians, businesspersons, athletes, entertainers and community-outreach members creating change within several urban communities. One of his messages, though, was that as long as people focus on race, there will be division in the United States.
His father told him that it’s not about what people call you, it’s what you answer to.
Satterfield then shifted his focus statistics. He said that out of 1,000 American people killed by the police, about a quarter of them are black people. Out of those 1,000 people, less than 4 percent involved a white officer and an unarmed black man. Last year (according to his recollection from the Washington Post), police killed nine unarmed black men and 19 unarmed white men across the country. Fifty law enforcement officers are annually shot and killed across the country in the line of duty.
According to Heather MacDonald of the Manhattan Institute, an American conservative political commentator, a police officer is 18.5 times more likely to be killed by a black man than an unarmed black man is to be killed by a police officer. Satterfield then said that the number one cause of black deaths is from homicide, and almost always committed by another black man. In 2018, about 7,400 blacks were homicide victims, which is more than half of the US total, he said. In Chicago, as of May 25, most black men in their 20s or younger had accounted for 303 of the 520 homicide deaths in the city in the last 665 days.
But since The Post started to track shootings, black people have been shot and killed by police officers at disproportionate rates, which accounts for both shootings overall and unarmed Americans. It is true that the number of blacks and unarmed people shot fatally by police has declined since 2015, but black people are still shot and killed at a disproportionately higher rate, whether armed or unarmed. In a chart that cites unarmed police shooting deaths per 10 million people from 2015 to 2019, black people are at 30.1, while Hispanics are at 10.7, whites are 7.3 and any other nationality is at 5.7.
Also according to the Washington Post, police shot and killed 175 young black men age 18 to 29 as of January 2015, and 24 of them were unarmed. Conversely, police shot and killed 172 young white men in that same timespan, and 18 were unarmed. While the numbers are similar, blacks are killed at rates disproportionate to the percentage of the US population. And in a chart that tracked shootings as of January 2015, “a black person shot and killed by a police officer is more likely to have been unarmed than a white person.”
The Chicago narrative can easily be debunked when considering three variables: poverty and the related structural disadvantages in such a large city where black people live; whites tending to kill other whites just as blacks tend to kill other blacks by overwhelming percentages; and lack of access to jobs, poorer educational opportunities and increased idle time all increase chances of criminal behavior.
But Satterfield stuck to his truth.
“Enough is enough, if I’m going to stand up and protest white police officers that are killing black people or displaying any acts of police brutality, I’m going to take that stand against blacks killing other blacks. It’s the same thing, somebody is dying, truth,” Satterfield said as some folks clapped. “We have a problem. We have a wall within our culture, walls within our race. We have these walls within our homes. And it’s time for men to take a stand and have a real conversation with their sons. It’s time for mothers to take a stand and have a real conversation with their daughters.”
Satterfield then put a proverbial bowtie on his speech, saying despite what has gone on in the past, keep the Lord in your heart and forgive, especially after the transgressions the now-minister has overcome.
Adena Harrison, a young woman who graduated in the CHS Class of 2015, also got her chance to speak about the racism she faced in Chanute. At 11 years old, she moved to Humboldt. As a member of Girls Scouts, she was called out by a boy her age.
“I was at this park playing. I was called a nigger by a boy close to our age,” Harrison said. “I went home extremely upset and told my parents. They eventually found out this child’s parents, and we eventually brushed it off as, ‘Well, that’s not a surprise then.’ This is wrong. If you were raised incorrectly, you step up and ensure your children are not leading the same life.”
At her first job at G & W Foods, a manager called her mother a nigger, and was subsequently fired. A couple of girls from CHS raised money and did their best to make Harrison feel bad for getting the manager fired, she said. In a series of unfortunate circumstances, Harrison argued with a teacher, who then called her a nigger and told her to go back to Africa to pick cotton like her ancestors, though her mother and father are white and black.
“Educating ourselves on the values of life and the experiences of different cultures and ethnicities is dire,” Harrison said. “As an adult woman, I realize that it should not be about that. I don’t want my children growing up here, because I can’t control other little black boys and girls possibly going through the same thing that I had to experience. I realize that I don’t want to run; I want to reform. And (for) this task, I need help.
“This should be the entire community. We as a community, as a country, as a nation, need to come together and realize that human lives are what matter, not the pigmentation in your skin or where you were born. Please, I ask that you educate yourself, educate your children...”
Sitting in a chair amongst family and friends, Sharron Jackson, an elderly black woman from Chanute who is the daughter of the revered former Chanute Mayor Jesse Jackson, spoke to the people as well. Jackson said that when her father was in high school, they had separate basketball teams based on skin color. She said she experienced racism when she was growing up, and that it still exists.
The last speaker was Cornell Walls, a black man who was raised in Chanute. One particular racist situation he pointed out was as a player on a traveling basketball team in grade school and his coach wouldn’t allow him to play because of the color of his skin.
Walls said throughout that it’s about love and God, despite what’s going on in the world. He noted that in order to make change, people have to be uncomfortable. He beckoned everyone to make it a point to meet someone they didn’t know, someone different from themselves.
“We’ve got to get in uncomfortable situations and show people,” Walls said. “Yes, I am black. We can have an uncomfortable situation. Yes, you can get to know me and then you don’t see that. We look at people and that’s our first instinct is to judge. That’s sad to say but it is. Let’s try to move past that. Let’s try to look within. Look within. Let’s try to see the insides of people. That’s what Jesus did. Jesus put himself in uncomfortable situations to make change.”