GULFPORT, Miss. (WLOX) - The year 2020 will be remembered for a lot of things including the marches, rallies, and protests that took place nationwide following the death of George Floyd in the hands of police. Here in South Mississippi, voices were not silenced. One particular march, the ‘Unity March’ was organized with a goal of bridging the gap between law enforcement and community.
“One thing I wanted to do is I wanted to make sure that everybody in this local community knew that what was going on outside our community didn’t have to go on the inside of our community,” said Unity March organizer Greg Whitfield.
Both Whitfield and Gulfport Police Chief Chris Ryle sat down on Wednesday to look back on the good of this particular rally. Hundreds of people from all different backgrounds marched through the streets of Gulfport peacefully with the same goal in mind: A show of unity.
“The unity that was built,” said Chief Ryle. “The prayer, just the love we showed for one another that day only brought us much closer together as a community,” Chief Ryle said.
Chief Ryle said in order to build relationships within communities, you first have to build trust. That’s why body cams have been enforced for the pass five years with Gulfport Police, so if anything is to ever go wrong, the proper steps can be taken to properly investigate.
“There’s a reason for it, so we can keep track and record everything we do and interactions with the citizens,” said Chief Ryle. “If you’re a bad cop, I don’t want you. ... My first day on the job I fired an officer, so I’m not afraid to terminate a bad officer. The community has to have trust in us to do our job.”
Whitfield said even though the Unity March is behind us, work is still being done to help the community stand together as one.
“Going out and doing positive things and showing a positive front - that’s really what it’s all about,” Whitfield said. “The main thing is when people have bad experience, bring it to the attention of people who can make a change and a difference instead of talking to other people around who can’t do anything about nothing.”
Chief Ryle said the pandemic forced his department to put on hold a lot of their plans for more interaction with the community.
“Unfortunately, COVID has come along and has canceled a lot of follow-up stuff we wanted to do at the police department, but it’s still in the forefront of our mind,’ Chief Ryle said. “We’ve got to continue to build these relationships within our community.”
As both men reflected on the good from the march, Whitfield expressed it is possible for South Mississippi to stand together as one.
”We can come together in unity and we can live and coincide together and live with each other,” said Whitfield.