PALATKA, Fla. – An 18-year-old and a 20-year-old organized a protest Thursday in Palatka against racial injustice.
Hundreds of people gathered Thursday outside the Putnam County Courthouse for the demonstration against racial inequality. The young adults who organized the protest, Dar-nesha Leonard and Tevel Adams, invited city and county leaders and law enforcement to protest racism and perceived symbols of hate toward African Americans.
“We didn’t expect for it to be this big. It was just an idea. Dar-nesha started it, and I just wanted to partner up with her and have a change in our community," Adams said.
The organizers said it’s time for the Confederate statue in front of the courthouse to be removed because they feel it’s a symbol of injustice toward African Americans. They said they also want an oak tree outside the courthouse to be removed.
"There is no reason for a Confederate statue to be in place in front of a building that’s used for justice for all. And while there may not have been any hangings with this particular oak tree, oak trees have been known in the African American community to be used to hang people in our community,” Leonard said.
A protester who News4Jax spoke with agreed.
“We are very strongly in favor of both the statue being relocated to a museum and replaced with something that better represents our community, as well as the oak tree being removed completely,” said Mallory Krueger.
Protesters, which included Palatka Mayor Terrill Hill, also spoke about racial injustice in the wake of the death of George Floyd while in police custody in Minneapolis.
“Right is very simple. There was nothing right about someone standing on someone’s neck for nine minutes until he’s breathless, and still being there for another three minutes. There’s nothing right about us having conversations about 1865 in 2020, so I’m just glad to be here and support these young people," Hill said.
Uniformed law enforcement officers also took part in the protest, including Palatka Police Chief Jason Shaw, who stood by Putnam County Sheriff Gator DeLoach.
“I believe in order for us to be effective as law enforcement officers, we can’t just police the community. We need to become a part of it," said DeLoach.
It’s worth noting that although there was a reported threat of counterprotesters showing, News4Jax never saw any.
The Putnam County Sheriff’s Office said the peaceful demonstration at the courthouse ended without violence, attacks or arrests.
Before the demonstration started, the Sheriff’s Office said it was anticipating increased pedestrian traffic along St. Johns Avenue near the courthouse and surrounding areas. Deputies said they were closing the 400 block of St. Johns Avenue, as well as the 100 block of North Fourth Street, which is next to the courthouse gazebo. Deputies said they were also expecting increased vehicle traffic and asked people to be patient and anticipate longer commutes if they were traveling in the area.
“We also ask those who do not plan to participate in the peaceful protest at the courthouse to avoid the area to help with traffic congestion,” the Sheriff’s Office said in a Facebook post.
Deputies added that there was no planned closure of the Memorial Bridge, but Florida Highway Patrol troopers would be helping with traffic congestion specifically around the bridge.