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Stanford joins cities across U.S. in Black Lives Matter protest 

“I believe in change,” said Stanford resident Phillis Walker as she sat on the Lincoln County Courthouse steps holding a sign that said, “No justice, no peace.”

Peaceful protests have been taking place in downtown Stanford this week, as well as across the United States, in response to incidents of police brutality against people of color.

One such incident involving a man named George Floyd sparked outrage across the country. Floyd suffered a heart attack and died as a Minneapolis police officer kneeled on his neck for eight minutes and 46 seconds while Floyd pleaded that he could not breathe.

The officer has been charged with second-degree murder, and three other officers have been charged with aiding and abetting Floyd’s murder.

Another case being highlighted by protesters is that of 26-year-old Breonna Taylor, of Louisville, Kentucky, who was shot at least eight times while asleep in her bed during a narcotics raid. The Louisville police say they only fired inside Taylor’s home after they were first fired upon by Kenneth Walker, her boyfriend.

While some protests have turned violent in larger cities, Stanford has remained peaceful as people gathered on the courthouse steps to raise awareness and remember those who they believe were unjustly treated or killed by police.

Stanford Police Chief Zach Middleton, along with several officers, was present both Wednesday and Thursday night as protesters held signs and chanted “Black Lives Matter.”

The police department released a statement on Wednesday.

“The Stanford Police Department echoes the desire to create change and speak out against the tragic death of George Floyd,” the statement reads. “We are aware that future gatherings of individuals wishing to express their justified frustration in response to what has happened in Minneapolis may occur. We support the rights of the public to safely and peacefully communicate their outrage as a response to this incident.”

Middleton said Thursday during the peaceful assembly that he and other officers were there to protect anyone who wished to peacefully gather and exercise their First Amendment rights.

“We’re here for them,” he said. “Just like we’re here for everybody else. We’re not here anticipating violence, we’re just here to make sure everybody is safe and make sure they can protest.”

Walker, who invited the public to join her Thursday night at the courthouse, said the energy is out there to demand justice.

“I believe that if home means something to you, and if the people that you love mean something to you, no matter what color they are…especially during COVID-19, I have learned that everybody is essential,” she said. “The golden rule applies to every walk: treat others how you want to be treated.”

Not only does Walker hope to see more accountability when it comes to police officers and how they conduct themselves, but she said she would also like to see people of color get more involved.

“I would like for my people to come out and to be more active, be more aware, be more involved and not just on Martin Luther King Jr. Day,” she said. “You have 365 to spread some love.”

Walker said the “Black Lives Matter” movement is not an attack on white people.

“I feel like a lot of white people feel like they’re being attacked and it’s not that, it’s not an attack,” she said. “I can tell you right now, we were not ever raised to hate anybody. But if you’re black, you’re suspect. You have to behave this way, you have to walk this way, watch what you say this way because they don’t understand how we talk.”

After being told she had to leave if her presence intimidated other residents in the area, Walker said she left Danville and moved back to Stanford because she was tired of looking over her shoulder.

“I get a letter saying that basically if they feel intimidated that I have to move off the property,” she said. “…I stayed in the house for three weeks, looking over my shoulder. I found out that because I had nice things in my home, I had to be selling drugs…”

For those reasons and more, Walker sat on the courthouse steps with others and later led the group, including police officers, in prayer.  Stanford Officer Ray Sayre passed out lollipops to kids that were taking part in the protest.

“I don’t care who you are, as long as you’re not hurting anybody, you walk in your light and truths, we all have responsibility and accountability,” she said. “Jesus died for us all, all of us. I’m not following anybody to hell. I’m going to try to get in them gates and there is no white man, no black man, none of them going to stop me from getting in them gates.”

Mikia Harris, of Stanford, said she’s ready for a change.

“In all honesty, I feel like I’ve lived in this town and they’ve always picked white lives over black lives and even though all lives matter, we just want to be shown that black lives matter too,” Harris said.

Mikia said she was a middle school student the first time she was called the “N” word.

“I went to the principal and he told me I was overreacting about it and that he was going to write down in my records that I was lying and that I didn’t need to ruin the other kid’s life,” she said. “A year later he (the student) came up to me and said yeah he did call me the “N” word, but he denied it at first.”

Tylia Harris, 16, of Stanford, said she’s tired of not being seen as an equal.

“I’m tired of being degraded. I’m tired of feeling like I’m nothing. I’m tired of when I go to school the first thing people comment on is my skin and how I act ‘ghetto’ or my hair. It’s been happening ever since I was in kindergarten,” she said.

“Why is your hair like that?” “Your hair is dirty, you haven’t washed it, have you?” “You’re pretty for a black girl.”

Those are comments Tylia says she has heard her entire life.

“Like she (Mikia) said, whenever somebody calls me the “N” word, I’m overreacting. But people don’t understand how far that word can hurt. It stabs right in the back and leaves an eternal scar,” she said. “I’m here to make the statement, and let people see the pain that we’ve been through and fight for equality.”

Alexis Banks, of Danville, joined protesters in Stanford Thursday night to fight for a better future for her children.

“All three of my children are mixed and I get the, ‘I’m sorry that your kids are brown,'” she said. “I even have family that seems like they have an issue.”

These protests are not just for adults, Banks said.

“The kids haven’t done anything. They haven’t done anything to be treated this way. They didn’t ask to be here, they didn’t ask to be a certain race,” she said. “If nobody else is going to speak up for them then…”

Stanford Mayor Scottie Ernst was also present during Thursday night’s protest.

“Black lives matter. All lives matter,” he said. “Black, white, hispanic…everybody has their right to their voice and their opinion. That’s their right to do so. That’s what the freedom of this country is all about.”

Ernst said he supports citizens who want to come publicly and give their voice and opinions.

“You’re seeing in other cities and states across the country and as long as it’s done peacefully, I have no problem with it,” he said. “I don’t believe in destruction of private property, I don’t think that solves anything.”

No incidents of violence or destruction have been reported in Stanford. As cars traveled down Main Street Thursday night, many honked in solidarity with protesters.