Parkersburg residents gathered peacefully on Sunday to march
Sunday evening, the Black Lives Matter protest rally in downtown Parkersburg was impassioned and peaceful, but never violent.
Several hundred residents of all ages, angered by the recent policeman killing of Minneapolis resident George Floyd, gathered at 5:00 pm to march down Market Street. Unlike recent demonstrations in Minneapolis, Columbus, Louisville, New York City, Washington D.C., and Portland, Mid-Ohio Valley residents came together peacefully with signs and solidarity.
The one-hour march started near St. Joseph’s on Market Street and ended near Government Square. Nothing was thrown, broken, destroyed, or set aflame.
Crowds chanted “No Justice, No Peace,” “Don’t Shoot, Hands Up,” “I can’t breathe,” and George Floyd’s name. Mid-march, Pastor Janet Richards shared a hopeful message with the crowd and led protesters in prayer not only for the family of George Floyd, but for all families that have lost someone to violence.
“Today’s march was miraculous and astonishing with the passion and turnout of the people who came full force for this truly peaceful protest march,” said Tim Tuten Sunday evening. Tuten said this was the first protest he had attended. “Everyone really rallied together for this and it was great to be a part of honoring George Floyd, standing up to police brutality, and uniting for social change.”
Amid speeches, chants, and prayers, there were powerful expressions of anger and frustration that the nation is still dealing with issues of racism five decades after the civil rights movement. Many participants carried handmade signs.
Victoria Poellot-Tauber attended the march with her two children, ages 9 and 15, who each spent about five hours making signs for the event. “If you’re tired of hearing about racism, imagine how tired some people are of experiencing it,” one sign read.
Poellot-Tauber said there were many reasons why she and her family chose to participate. “I am half Mexican and half American. My mother is a naturalized immigrant to this country. I have felt racism before although in most situations, I pass for white,” she said. “My daughter is a member of her Native American tribe and my son is half black. For years, I have superimposed his face on the bodies of black men innocently slain in my mind. This isn’t the future I want for him but I fear it will be unless a lot changes.”
Conversations about racism are common in her household out of necessity, said Poellot-Tauber. “My children have been called names and assaulted before in the MOV. The first time someone called the police on my son he was two. The first time he was called the N word, he was seven.”
Poellot-Tauber said her daughter, now fifteen years old, was deeply moved by the killing of George Floyd and the recent events. New to social media, she was moved to tears and disgusted by some of the posts and comments she was seeing on her feed. “Local people more offended by a quarterback kneeling for a national anthem were saying George Floyd deserved to die. She needed to be part of the solution and I needed to support that.”
In addition to being present with her family, Poellot-Tauber said they marched for those who could not. “We needed to march for business owners who couldn’t for fear of losing business, for families who were afraid of violence, for anyone else who couldn’t bring themselves to do it.”
Towards the end of the march, some protesters recreated the events leading up to George Floyd’s death followed by nine minutes of silence, representing the length of time Officer Derek Chavin held his knee on George Floyd’s neck.
“My daughter was in tears and my son astonished at how long nine minutes actually is,” said Poellot-Tauber. “We knelt in solidarity, my feet blistered and my knees scraped from the coarse street was humbling to say the least.”
Of the police presence during the march, Poellot-Tauber said she wished some of the officers would have marched alongside protestors, but understood given the circumstances and thought they did a wonderful job keeping protestors safe. “Make no mistake, the only threat to Parkersburg was against those marching, not by those marching,” she said. “There were several anti-protestors who needed to be approached by law enforcement as they open carried and brandished weapons alongside the peaceful chanting marchers. It made my nine year old very uneasy.”
Jennifer Bryant, who attended the march with her children, also noted appreciation for the officers on site. “Sheriff Stephens even interceded when a counter protestor tried to incite a fight. They did a good job.”
After seeing comments on a post about the rally in a local Facebook group escalate earlier that morning, Bryant shared screenshots of residents threatening violence with Chief Martin and Mayor Joyce ahead of the march.
“They seemed to just want to rattle folks and possible instigate,” she said of the counter protesters. “No one from the march was giving them any attention.”
Bryant said she attended because after having discussions with her children this week, she felt that it was important for her BIPOC friends to know that her family stands with them. “I acknowledge the privilege we enjoy, and I feel it’s necessary to teach them through action to stand up for equality, fairness, and decency while also showing them that we must not only be kind and inclusive, but also anti-racists.”
A few hours before the march was scheduled to begin, Parkersburg Mayor Joyce shared a message on the City of Parkersburg Facebook page addressing the event. “I am confident that here in Parkersburg and throughout the Mid-Ohio Valley that the aggressive, destructive, and hateful behavior that has permeated a lot of communities across the United States will not occur this afternoon in Parkersburg,” he said. “I want to encourage anyone who feels they need to make a presence on either side to understand that with regards to things staying peaceful, appropriate and professional, that’s not going to be a problem.”
After the march, Mayor Joyce posted a thank you to all who participated and attended the rally for their peaceful and gentile nature. “I also appreciate the cooperation between all of our local law enforcement agencies, for their diligent planning and response to keep all persons and property safe and out of harms way.”
Kyle Pugh marched on Sunday and said she hopes that this march demonstrates that peaceful protests are possible. “I hope it shows that we are not thugs or thieves, and that all we want is our rights and voices to be heard.” When asked why she chose to march, Pugh said systemic racism runs deep in this country.
“I think of all the young black and brown boys and girls who see people who look like them – their fathers, brothers, mothers, and sisters – being killed on a routine basis. I think of every black man living in constant fear on a daily basis. I’m infuriated and heartbroken,” she said. “I’m tired of being ignored. They need to stop killing us.”
Although the march was seen by many as a success, Pugh knows the struggle is far from over. “This has been a long march for black and brown people for hundreds of years. I’m sure it opened a few eyes in our community, but until institutions start to make changes across the board, we will continue to struggle.”
Still, she’s hopeful and said she will continue to fight alongside her people and allies.
Pugh encourages others to reflect on their own experience and privilege. “If you know you have privilege, accept it and bring awareness to those who don’t recognize their own. White people can no longer remain silent,” she said. “Stand with us. Stand up. Just because you can’t relate or don’t know what to say, educate yourself and others. Bring awareness to the injustices you witness. Don’t hide.”