Minutes after the sun had set on Gainesville, the only sounds on Jesse Jewell Parkway were the distant noises of midtown traffic: trains whistling, motors revving and cars honking.
For about eight minutes and 46 seconds, a crowd of roughly 300 people stood silently Saturday, June 6, tending to their candles’ flames flickering in a light breeze.
“All I saw when I looked out was unity, peace, love, joy. It was a very powerful moment,” said Jackie Lipscomb, a Newtown Florist Club board member who spearheaded the candlelight vigil.
George Floyd was held down by the knee of a police officer for roughly eight minutes and 46 seconds in a widely circulated video. The 46-year-old man died while being detained by police in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Four officers were fired, and criminal charges have been filed.
The candlelight vigil Saturday was in memory of Floyd and other victims of police violence.
Lipscomb said the first time she saw the video she cried endlessly.
“I couldn’t think about anything more than: How can someone have a heart to do this to a person?” Lipscomb asked. “How can a person who is supposed to serve and protect citizens kill citizens? And what makes the entire situation worse, this isn’t the first time something like this has happened, but now is the time it all has to end.”
The event featured voices from the community, civic leaders and pastors, interwoven with songs and performances.
“We are here because we believe that there needs to be change. But I want to put a word in your mind. You cannot change the system if you’re not willing to change your own thinking system,” said Josue Munoz, an associate pastor at Iglesia Refugio de Salvacion.
The Rev. Jentezen Franklin, senior pastor of Free Chapel, told the crowd, “It’s almost like the mass majority of the white community had static on the phone, and the black community has been saying to the white community for a long time, ‘Can you hear me now?’”
The pastor said he was encouraging people to continue speaking and standing up.
“We don’t have to agree on everything. Can we set our politics aside and realize there’s no middle ground on racism, that you’re either for it or you’re against it? And if you’re a Christian and you believe the Bible, you must be against it. Jesus was against it,” Franklin said.
Franklin said “tonight I just pray that God will begin to work in this city like never before.”
“I feel some regret. I’m just being honest. Why has it taken me so long to be here? I feel some regret in that how can we live in the same city and not do this more often in the name of justice and equality,” Franklin said. “I pledge my voice, my influence, my life and my light and our church in any and every way that we can, not just with our voices but with our resources to say together we can make a difference in our nation and make it the place that God intended it to be: the land of the free, one nation, under God, indivisible with liberty and justice for all. I’ll fight for that. I’ll stand for that. I’ll bleed for that, and I know you will, too.”
One group performed a piece called “Change Demanded,” which began with the opening burst of “Amazing Grace” before discussing interactions with police.
“When you see me, what do you see? Is it the texture of my hair? The bronze of my skin? My physical appearance doesn’t tell you who I am. I grew up reading books about women with fair skin, because my complexion was looked at as a villain or a sin. I didn’t look like the kids in the books,” said Grace Portillo, who is going into 10th grade at Gainesville High School.
Andrew Cheek of Gainesville, who has become known for his Facebook Live coverage of the protests, took to the stage. He said he felt compelled to do something and join the young people who were protesting during the last week.
“I was just a man with a phone, didn’t know what else to do, didn’t know how I could make a difference,” Cheek said.
Cheek said his concern was for the city of Gainesville, which he knew “has been hurting for a while, not just black lives but our civil servants.” He referenced the 2019 death of Hall County Sheriff’s Office Deputy Nicolas Blane Dixon.
Dixon died July 8, 2019, after pursuing four men in an allegedly stolen vehicle on Jesse Jewell Parkway in Gainesville, according to authorities. He was shot one time in an exchange of gunfire, according to the Georgia Bureau of Investigation.
Following a slew of speakers, a slideshow played near the main stage showing the names and faces of black men and women killed, the majority of which at the hands of law enforcement.
A video was played of the Floyd family attorney, Ben Crump, before the Rev. Rose Johnson, Newtown Florist Club executive director, took to the stage.
“I believe that the Lord God, that he used George Floyd to be a symbol to this nation so that all of those families who are crying out, crying out for justice, crying out for peace … that the Lord used George Floyd to answer their prayers,” Johnson said.
Johnson announced a few more events that will keep the dialogue moving. One is a June 18 “open air community conversation” at the Midtown Greenway with law enforcement. Judges and prosecutors will be invited along with Gainesville Police Chief Jay Parrish and Hall County Sheriff Gerald Couch.
“I don’t want it to ever be the case where one of our officers or one of our deputies are caught on by somebody’s camera beating the hell out of somebody … and it becomes a national news story, global news story,” Johnson said. “And that this city that could have taken care of its own business allowed it to happen. I don’t want that to ever (happen), because we can do better. We can do better, and we are going to do better.”
There will also be a June 23 Zoom call held by a unitarian universalist church regarding white privilege.
Lipscomb said her next steps will continue with the youth and “giving them that platform to say something, to tell them not to be afraid to do that.”