Guest column: “Small town, big impact”

 

Donavan Barrier grew up in La Porte and graduated from Purdue Northwest in December 2019. He wrote for the Purdue Pioneer for a year and a half while also writing preview pieces for the Canterbury Theater, Footlight Player’s and La Porte Little Theater. Currently he works at WNIT-PBS in South Bend.

“While protests have popped up across the major cities in the United States, protests in smaller towns are also leaving a huge impact. I went to experience a protest that happened recently in my hometown and documented it,” Barrier said. 

Never in a million years would I ever think that my small town would take part in something so big. On June 5, 2020 the Northwest Indiana town  of La Porte, Indiana played host to a protest in response to the death of George Floyd, a Minnesota man whose death caught on tape sparked a national outrage. Mass demonstrations all across the United States from New York to California surged on with many of them de-evolving into riots and looting. Many citizens, especially those in the black community, took to the streets not only in George Floyd’s memory but in anger and frustration at hundreds of years of abuse and uncharged murder perpetrated by law enforcement officers. While I certainly was aware of the marches going on in the bigger cities and gave total support to many of them, I never suspected that the fever would catch on in my hometown of La Porte.

When Floyd’s death hit the news, like many in my community I was absolutely upset. Most of my peers and I have been watching the news since we were in our tweens thanks to stations like Channel One News and eventually CNN and Fox, so we kept up to date pretty much on everything. From Trayvon Martin to Eric Garner, we kept tabs on it all. Many of us were outraged at the lack of prosecution on the officers that perpetrated these crimes and made it abundantly clear during lunch or break time with vehement speeches about civil rights and social justice that we were unhappy. Yet we always seemed to go back to our normal routine afterwards like we had gotten it all of our system and can go back to our lives. We were true armchair revolutionaries; a lot of fire in our bellies but no action to back it. With his death, all of that changed dramatically.

The protest that happened seemed, to me, to be the end result of the final explosion from an unwatched cooking pot. All that happened on that fateful afternoon in a city seven hours away from us was like a slow burning wick finally hitting the dynamite. Those that held a more liberal opinion found the courage to speak out in mass protest rather than through casual conversation or Facebook meme-posting. Our town’s typically conservative voice was today drowned out by a younger, more social thinking crowd. In a world that seemed to carry everyone’s voice through the Internet and social media, it seemed that we were finally being heard.

I originally went there to only observe from afar what was going on downtown. I had no interest in joining the crowd and only wanted to see if the protest was really going to happen. I was surprised to hear the roar of what later looked to be a hundred people or more fly across the four o’ clock rush traffic. As I got closer to where the protest was held, the shouts ‘No Justice, No Peace!’ and ‘Hands up, Don’t Shoot!’ became louder and louder as the agitated passion grew. The crowd was a mixed bag of mostly young adults and teenagers, but there were a few of the older generation there who lent their support by holding signs and giving out water and snacks to others in the sweltering heat. Adding to the cacophony was the sound of horns honking in solidarity. On the other side of the street, remnants from a previous counter-protest from earlier in the day by those who supported Trump hung around in military-esque outfits with rifles slung over their shoulders. Compared to those who showed up supporting Black Lives Matter, they were exponentially outnumbered. Next to them were blue-suited police officers who were equally armed but seemed to harbor no ill will toward either side. Some of their counterparts in the sheriff’s department that I saw as I drew in closer were conversing with some of the protestors in a friendly manner. About fifteen minutes in, a bulk of the protestors began to walk across the local overpass and there was a moment of quiet for all of us who decided not to. The more I conversed with those who attended, (the co-host happened to be an old friend from high school), the more I began to get swept up in the revolution. This was the moment that I had dreamed about but never got around to doing. No longer was I an armchair revolutionary, I was a real one this time!

While the air of peaceful unrest was abounding, I did note of some of the participant’s outside the few that I recognized. One woman made it very clear that she viewed no cop as good. Any officer who wears a badge and a gun was, to her, the immortal enemy. Another walked across the street beating his chest and screaming into a megaphone. He seemed to be daring some of the counter-protestors to make a move, even taking off his shirt in display. More and more I started to get nervous; I knew this one man’s frustration could start an entire chain of events that I hoped wouldn’t happen. I did not want to see a repeat of what happened all across the United States in my home town. The ‘rise-against-the-system’ mentality I held suddenly left as my anxiety grew. I did not want to be witness to a possible escalation.

When I left the protest, the crowd seemed to be growing bigger and bigger. I left that day with a strange mix of cynicism and pride. I felt proud that I was, for a little while, part of a piece of history of the city of La Porte. What we did in this small town was part of a huge step in rebelling against the system that held us down for so long. It was a phenomenal shout to those above us that said ‘We are here! Now listen to us!’. At the same time I felt quite unsure of the whole situation; would it get our point across? Would we finally, as a nation, be heard? That, I can only hope for. For now, I suppose this will suffice.

4 Responses to “Guest column: “Small town, big impact””

  1. Tim

    Jun 06. 2020

    Very well said. Thank You.

    Reply to this comment
  2. Wendy

    Jun 06. 2020

    I am so stinkin’ proud of the young people of Laporte who stood up and weren’t afraid to get the BLM message out to our town! So very, very proud! You’re making a difference and inspiring change! Black lives matter!

    Reply to this comment
  3. John

    Jun 06. 2020

    Just another excuse to gather and protest something. We’re very lucky this didn’t get out of hand. All these protests all over the nation do absolutely nothing to fix the race issue, which has been with us ever since that first slave ship docked here and unloaded its cargo.

    Reply to this comment

Leave a Reply to Rob