Shantwon Astin addressed a Braselton protest Tuesday afternoon with a message of unity.
“We have the ability to change what's happening right now, but we have to stay together,” he said. “We cannot be divided. When we move, we make sure that we move together.”
Astin, a member of the Hoschton City Council, was one of many protesters to speak at the peaceful rally in Braselton addressing the issues of police brutality and systemic racism. The gathering started at noon with around 50 people holding signs, hands or clenched fists in the air right outside the Braselton Parking Deck, down the road from the Braselton police department and municipal court. By 12:30, that number had swelled to around 100.
As the day wore on, the crowd consistently kept up chants of “No justice, no peace”, “Hands up, don’t shoot” and “White silence is violence” among others. Cars passing by frequently honked their support drawing cheers and reinvigorated chanting from the participants.
The protest was organized by Braselton natives and Georgia State University students Anslee Stephens and Dalton Ferrell, who said Astin’s theme of togetherness was exactly why they decided to get involved in the movement.
“I think it’s nice to bring a small community together and stand with each other and for each other,” Stephens said. “Especially during times like this.”
Abeni Harris, who attended the protest while holding a sign reading “Our names shouldn’t be trending” said she wanted to get involved in protesting because police brutality and racism against black people in the United States has been an issue for far too long.
She said incidents like the recent death of George Floyd at the hands of a Minneapolis police officer had simply become too numerous for her to continue staying quiet about it.
“If nobody is going to stand up while it’s happening, somebody else needs to be out here for it,” she said. “He doesn’t have a voice anymore. Somebody needs to be that voice for him.”
Makaylin Moore said he wanted to join the protest because he has been a victim of systemic racism himself.
Moore said police officers drew their weapons on him at a gas station when they confused him for an at-large suspect of a crime he did not commit. While he was unharmed from the incident, Moore said many other black men and women around the country have not been so lucky in similar encounters.
“They’re doing this on camera, and they don’t even care about it,” he said. “I just don’t see how people would think that it’s regular that people are dying on camera.”
Angela Jackson, who is white, attended the event with her four black children.
Jackson, who carried a sign reading “My kids’ lives matter” said she believes it’s important for people of all races to get involved.
“It’s important because it impacts my children, it impacts their friends and it impacts our community,” she said. “Honestly it’s a humanity issue.”
The message the Braselton community was trying to send with the protest was summed up simply and concisely by Alexia Acuna, who spoke with passion to the protesters at the gathering’s participation peak.
“We can no longer turn a blind eye to this,” she said. “We have to speak up now.”