Police, community gather for peaceful protest in Gulfport

Police, community gather for peaceful protest in Gulfport
Chief Papannia took a moment to pose for a selfie with organizers. (Photo source: WLOX News)
Chief Papannia took a moment to pose for a selfie with organizers. (Photo source: WLOX News)

GULFPORT, MS (WLOX) - The theme of Saturday's Black Lives Matter rally in Jones Park was as clear as the way it was communicated.

"We're not trying to divide anybody," said organizer Sarah Barnes. "We want us all to come together."

The rally was organized entirely through social media, and the signs were as diverse as the support group of about 40 people that attended.

There were speeches, prayers, and peaceful conversations.

"I hope that what we will get from this is dialogue, open dialogue, in that we can reform some things around Gulfport that what's happened around the country doesn't happen here," added Barnes.

Co-organizer Essence Canfield agrees that all lives matter. She understands those who protest the name of the movement, but she wants people to understand her perspective.

"If I'm a firefighter, and there's a specific house on fire, I'm not going to spray all the houses. I'm going to spray that's on fire. Because that's the house that needs attention. That's the house that needs love," said Canfield.

It's an emotional effort that organizer Schwricka Keyes doesn't want to have to do again.

"I feel like if we can come out here - I'm trying not to get emotional - but if we can get out here and show love to each other and unite as one, we don't have to do this."

A counter rally that was promoted on the internet the past few days never materialized. Instead, a group of about eight people gathered under the shade of a large oak tree and watched the black lives matter protest from a distance.

The group noted that they were not with any organized group, but described themselves as casual observers. However, they also brought a message of their own to Jones Park.

"All lives matter, as well as black lives, Hispanic lives, police lives every life matters, not just black lives, and we're out here to keep the peace and make sure nothing goes wrong," said Dakota Adkins.

The group talked with a few members of the Black Live Matter movement before leaving the park shortly after 6 p.m.

Because of safety concerns, The Gulfport Police Department brought in extra manpower; including erecting an observation tower across from the park on the north side of Hwy. 90.

There were no issues at the event, and GPD Chief Lenard Papania says he knows why.

"We've got great people here and this community has long been working to address those concerns, long before it was a national issue. The people of the Gulf Coast have addressed that and they continue to work together and that's what's making my job so easy," said Papania.

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