The organizer of a peaceful protest to be held in Stillwater has announced updated plans for the event.
Emily Croft, a 17-year-old senior at Stillwater High School took the lead on the “WE CAN’T BREATHE – peaceful protest, in part, because she felt the need to take action after video of the May 25 killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis surfaced on social media and protests began spreading across the country.
She hadn’t been able to take part in any of the rallies or protests in other cities and also wanted to give others a chance to move beyond posting on social media to physically speaking out and standing in solidarity with the people protesting the killings of black Americans at the hands of police.
The protest was originally planned for the Payne County Courthouse lawn but will instead take place in front of the Stillwater Police Department, 701 S. Lewis St., 10 a.m. - 12 p.m. on Wednesday.
Croft said the protest is not intended as a criticism of Stillwater’s police force.
“I want to emphasize that no one is upset with anyone in Stillwater,” she told the News Press. “We’re just standing up with our brothers and sisters … I don’t stand at all for harassing police officers.”
She doesn’t expect or want it to become adversarial and has coordinated with Chief of Police Jeff Watts in organizing the event.
To keep everyone safe, people are asked to not bring water bottles because they have been used as weapons and been thrown at police officers in other cities.
The department plans to have officers posted on top of the building to watch for agitators in the crowd who might try to start trouble.
Croft said the street will be blocked with concrete barricades to protect the crowd gathered for the protest.
“The police have been incredibly positive and cooperative,” she said in a Facebook comment.
She had planned for people to gather on the sidewalk in front of the police department but on Tuesday, the Stillwater Police Department announced that the 700 Block of S. Lewis St. would be closed to traffic and parking all day. The east half of the parking lot across the street from the police department will also be closed for the day. Access to services at City Hall will be limited.
Anyone wanting to enter the building will have to do so through the police department entrance along 7th Street, on the north side of the building.
SPD issued a statement Tuesday afternoon about what it called the “Justice for George Floyd” peaceful demonstration.
“We fully support our citizens’ rights to gather peacefully and make their voices heard. The city and the police department stand with the organizers of this demonstration in their call to ensure that everyone treated equally by police officers and that rogue police officers are held accountable for their actions.”
Some people in the community questioned whether it was appropriate for someone who isn’t a person of color, even if they are an ally, to be spearheading the protest.
Croft said she had reached out to ask black members of the Stillwater community to share their perspectives and experiences. At press time, six speakers had indicated they would be participating.
“There are black community members that have been providing input and helping with decisions,” she said on Facebook. “… Since everything has come together so quickly, we unfortunately haven't been able to be sponsored by a black community group. However, we have a great line up of speakers for tomorrow. I've been trying to focus on black voices. My goal is to hand this platform over to the people whose voices need to be heard. I'm still waiting on some responses, but a majority of our speakers are going to be POC. This is a completely legitimate concern and I'm glad everyone is so passionate about black voices.”
One focus of the rally will be on how people can educate themselves and help. There will also be a time to talk about taking specific actions to protect people from police brutality, like the NAACP demands to ban choke holds and knee holds from acceptable police practices, make officer misconduct information available to the public and implement citizen review boards to check the actions of police and build public confidence.
“There are bad people in every profession, every walk of life,” Croft said. “It’s imperative that other officers recognize that this is a bad person, not just another officer.”
Croft doesn’t see this being more than a one-time event but she hopes it will inspire others.
“I’d love it if a greater community discussion rose out of it,” she said.