OPINION: Spencer needs to hear what protesters have to say

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Spencer needs to hear what Thursday’s protesters have to say.

If you don’t know, there’s a peaceful protest planned for 5 p.m. Thursday in Spencer. Protesters will gather at East Leech Park and march on the sidewalks of Grand Avenue to the Spencer Police Department, where they will share their message before heading back.

The protest is called the March For Justice For George Floyd on its public Facebook event page. 

The group’s purpose is made clear in the event description: “We will march and stand as one community to fight racism and call for the Minneapolis Police Department to prosecute the officers involved with the MURDER of George Floyd. Demand justice. With no justice, there is no peace. Black lives matter.”

Discussion on the Facebook event page, March for Justice For George Floyd, shows a range of opinion. Many people have indicated they are going or at least interested in the event, but others are already posting what amount to rumors and fearmongering. 

No, the protest organizers have nothing to do with any sort of threats of violence or of property damage to local businesses. Have there truly been any? If so, please email me. There’s a chance that the false flag misinformation campaigns that have been trying to stoke panic among local businesses and politicians are at work in Spencer.

Mayor Kevin Robinson has said the city is tracking down rumors it has heard and have found none to be true.

Any threats certainly aren’t coming from this protest’s leaders. They’ve made that clear on their Facebook page and have told me so in conversations I have had with them. They have only emphasized how much they want to create a safe and peaceful environment.

Heck, one of the organizers is bringing his kids. That should be proof enough that he does not want violence or damage to property to be encouraged.

But what’s almost as frustrating as the false rumors are other comments that appear to be supportive of the protest’s message but question how it’s being planned. What these commenters mean to say is, “Can you protest in a way that I can more easily ignore?”

That’s not how protests work.

A good number of people are upset that the group is marching to the Spencer Police Department. A protest will be held there, but there is no protest against Spencer police.

Spencer police could even show support for the group’s message. They’d need only look to examples set by some officers in Des Moines and in Lincoln who joined protesters in kneeling in honor of George Floyd.

Now that would be impactful, don’t you think?

The event organizers have made one thing clear: Theirs will be a peaceful protest. They have been in contact with law enforcement and city officials. They have preemptively condemned anyone planning to cause trouble in town. They have even asked that nobody wear full face coverings that hide their identity.

The protesters have every right to do what they are planning Thursday. Spencer would do well to listen to their message.

Plus, like I said, Spencer needs to hear it.

I have seen some troubling prejudices poorly hidden in the community. This is not to say that everyone in the community holds those prejudices – most do not. However, these prejudices exist and are not all that hard to see.

Spencer isn’t the only town I’ve lived in that has these same problems with racism. They just are hardly ever talked about here.

I won’t share specific examples in this opinion column. I fear doing so would only lead to finger-pointing and further division. It could also betray the trust of those who have shared those stories with me. I don’t feel I have their permission to tell their stories. 

I highly doubt I am the only one who knows of such examples, anyway. If you have your own stories of encountering racism and prejudice in the area, then you know as well as I do that the message that will be shared this Thursday in Spencer is valuable.

The message is valuable for communities surrounding Spencer, too. It’s valuable for every community in this country. 

Every community would do well to listen to the Black Lives Matter movement and truly hear – and support – its message that we as a country must stop accepting violence and systemic racism against black people.

Everyone in Spencer has that opportunity on Thursday.

If you believe that black lives matter and are able to participate peacefully in the protest, then I hope you will.

If not, I hope you will at least listen.

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