By Harley Nefe
Nearly 1,000 individuals marched in a protest in downtown Boone on June 7 that began around 5 p.m., with many people holding signs and shouting “Black Lives Matter,” among other chants.
This Boone event, which was organized by University of North Carolina at Charlotte student Raheim Andrews who was born and raised in North Carolina and lived in Boone, is one of the many protests that have occurred across the United States against injustice and inequality. This is the second straight Sunday that a protest has occurred in downtown Boone.
Attendants participating in the justice walk met at College Street on the Appalachian State University campus at the library circle, where individuals from groups including Appalachian State University and Boone police departments were handing out water and Gatorade as well as masks.
Almost everyone at the event were wearing masks as a precaution to COVID-19 concerns.
“The number one thing for me is safety here for me today,” Andrews said. “I want to make sure we remain peaceful.”
After Andrews spoke a few words to the crowd thanking everyone for arriving and saying that he was speechless, the protestors proceeded on the sidewalks of King Street to the Watauga County Courthouse.
Some of the signs protestors were carrying had phrases, such as “If you think your mask makes it hard to breathe, imagine being black in America,” “Hands up means don’t shoot” and “The power of the people is stronger than the people in power.”
Once the group arrived at the courthouse and filled the street in front of the building, other chants could be heard throughout the moment, such as “Say his name … George Floyd” and “Say her name … Breonna Taylor.”
“This event, I can’t even lie to you all, it’s beautiful how safe and peaceful everything is,” Andrews said to the crowd in front of the courthouse before handing over the megaphone to Andy Le Beau, interim police chief of Boone Police Department.
Members from Appalachian State University and Boone police departments also walked with protestors to the courthouse.
“It’s quite an honor to be asked to speak at a Black Lives Matter rally,” Le Beau said.“It’s not only our duty, but our honor to facilitate all of you being able to express your First Amendment rights. I really appreciate you doing it in Boone style, in a way that this community can hear it, and in a way that these police officers including myself can hear it. Thank you.”
“I didn’t want our participation to overshadow what (Andrews) is doing because this is an important message, and we stand with you in this,” Le Beau said.
Also in front of the courthouse, Andrews’ sister sang “Lift Every Voice and Sing,” which is referred to the black national anthem, before Andrews spoke to the crowd.
“Again, thank you everyone for being here,” Andrews said. “I didn’t want to write a speech today, but I’m not going to lie, I’ve been overwhelmed with a lot of anxiety and just wanted to say not what Boone wants to hear, but what Boone needs to hear today.”
Referencing an App State billboard that reads, “View the world in a Mountaineer perspective,” Andrews asked the crowd to “view the world in a black person’s perspective.”
“George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery and Breonna Taylor, We don’t march solely for any single one, but for all the lives that have been lost due to police brutality and systemic racism,” Andrews said. “What do these names have in common? Unjust death, innocent unarmed black citizens, lives cut short unsensally.”
“What sets these names apart from the black community that are here in attendance today?” Look around you. What sets them apart? Andrews asked. “They are peacefully gathered here today. They are unarmed. They have families that love them and families that need them.”
Andrews also talked about being a minority and the racism that he experienced in Boone, including how he had been called the N-word during his time playing soccer in high school.
“Pandemics are real whether or not you know someone who is sick,” Andrews said. “Racism is real even if you aren’t racist. White privilege is real even if you don’t feel it. Police brutality is real even if the cop you know is fair and just. Your world isn’t the world. Everything is not about you.”
Apart from attending demonstrations and listening, Andrews said other ways to help include holding each other accountable, educating others to uplift and support the black community, voting and donating to organizations.
Other individuals spoke to the crowd in front of the courthouse, including Reggie Hunt, pastor at Cornerstone Summit Church and Toussaint Romain, deputy general counsel at Appalachian State University and a civil rights activist.
After the speeches, the crowd knelt by the courthouse silently for 8 minutes and 46 seconds. Once the time was up, the crowd stood and cheered before dispersing.
“Matter is the minimum for black lives, the absolute bare minimum” Andrews said. “Black lives are worthy, black lives are beloved and black lives are needed. Today, I demand justice for all three of Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor and George Floyd, and I ask that you demand that as well.”