by Jeremy Morrison
Dozens of people participated Saturday night in Blackout Pensacola, an event held in solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement. The group wore black, carried signs addressing police-violence against African-Americans and walked from Martin Luther King, Jr., Plaza to the J.M. Blanchard Judicial Building in downtown Pensacola.
As people began to gather on the plaza, Marshall Slade and his young daughter worked on a poster they planned to carry in the evening’s walk. It read: ‘We Are 1.’
“What are we doing it for?” Ariel Slade asked her father.
“Just civil justice, baby,” her dad replied. “It’s all about civil justice.”
Wearing a Black Lives Matter t-shirt, Tim Thurman waited for the event to begin and explained that he decided to participate to show support to “both sides,” lamenting the violence by law enforcement, but noting that retaliatory actions don’t solve the problem.
“We’re really focusing on peace,” Thurman said. “At the end of the day, we want all the killing to stop.”
Pensacola’s Black Lives Matter-solidarity walk occurred just over a week after the fatal shooting of five police officers during a Dallas protest against police violence, and a day before the killing of three officers in Baton Rouge, a city especially on edge following the July 5 police-shooting of Alton Sterling, a black man who was selling CDs outside a convenient store.
The event in Pensacola was decidedly peaceful. Organizers, who declined to give their names, stressed to participants that the evening was about unity and that it was important that it be nonviolent.
“This is a walk, not a protest,” said a man over a bullhorn as the group prepared to begin their trek. “We want to stand together, we want to show unity.”
The journey from MLK Plaza to the judicial building was slow and quite. The route notably avoided the main stretch of South Palafox, where downtown’s Saturday night crowd was beginning their evening.
Once at the judicial building, the man with the bullhorn again spoke about the notion of unity.
“There’s only one race, there’s the human race,” he said, before calling for a silent observance of lives lost.
Ellison Bennett, a local civil rights advocate and board member of the National Movement of Civil and Human Rights, stood off to the side observing. He said he wanted to ensure the event remained peaceful and also show his support for the cause.
“To encourage these young people to fight for what they believe in,” Bennett said, praising the group’s focus on peace and unity. “These people are peaceful. They know we can come together and know this violence is not the key.”
The civil rights advocate also noted his years spent in law enforcement — serving as a sheriff deputy locally and a police officer in Haines City — and said he has seen the issue through varying lenses.
“I’ve seen both sides,” Bennett said, before describing how the body of evidence indicates that African-Americans are disproportionately the target of police violence. “At some point we have to come to the realization that black people are being killed by law enforcement.”
As the silent observance in front of the judicial building wrapped up, the man with the bullhorn again encouraged attendees to spread a message of unity. He talked about how some in the community had expected trouble with the Blackout event — “there were rumors of violence, there were rumors that we were gonna bring guns” — and commended participants on their demeanor.
“This just warms my heart, man, it really does,” he said, urging them to refrain from retaliation. “Hate begets hate, evil begets evil, aggression begets aggression.”