Protesters marched through the streets of Lakeland today en route to a peaceful rally that filled Munn Park with well over 1,000 people.
The procession was headed by hearses displaying names and pictures of black people who have been killed by police or by vigilantes. Clergy members and their families followed the hearses, and then other protesters.
The march began in northwest Lakeland at a field by 1507 Powhatan Court at 2:30 p.m. As marchers passed parks, homes and businesses, people waved from their porches, took video from their cars, and passed out water. Smaller groups of protesters joined the main march as it progressed, bringing more signs and people joining the chants.
Lakeland police waited at intersections of roads they blocked for the nearly 3-mile march, which eventually went down Massachusetts Avenue and up Main Street to Munn Park. Several hundred protesters were waiting to join at the park, too. The groups filled the grass and sidewalk.
The rally at the park was part political protest and part rousing church service. Musicians and speakers addressed the crowd from a stage at the north end of the park.
For nearly three hours, they talked about racial justice, policing, the legal system and outrage over the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis two weeks ago.
Speakers ranged from the mother of a local teen who was killed by police to the local public defender explaining the evolution of the Constitution to a representative of the African Peoples Socialist Party decrying colonialism.
As the crowd trickled down at the end of the speeches, a group of children and adults were left dancing to worship songs.
Jarvis Washington, founder of Black Lives Matter Restoration Polk Inc., said he thinks the scale of the protest, its peacefulness, and the diverse support it received shows the community is ready to work together to make change in areas including police brutality, education, living conditions, and the economic system.
View the entire Munn Park rally:
He wants to shift focus now to hosting community meetings and meetings with leaders at Lakeland City Hall.
“I think we’re ready,” he said. “Now they’ve seen real revival and connection within the community.”
Washington is one of eight panelists at a “Call to Conscience” community forum scheduled for 6 p.m. Monday at Cannon Funeral Home. The forum, which will be live-streamed on Facebook, includes Lakeland’s mayor and police chief and will focus on next steps to bridge the gap between local officials and the black community.
Some protesters expressed similar hopes for the community coming together, while others felt frustrated.
Nick Payne of Lakeland held a sign asking, “Am I next?” He said he has felt harassed by the police during traffic stops and worries about dying during such an encounter.
“We don’t get warnings,” Payne said. “If you’re black, knowing your rights will get you killed.”
Payne said he has been protesting and voting whenever he can since 2016, trying to help change things.
Jimmy Cerritos, who made his skateboard into a sign for the protest, said he was glad to see his hometown coming together. He hopes more people will get involved in local government and work harder to inform themselves.
“I want to see more involved; that way we can see real change,” he said.
Kris Irving, mother of Michael Taylor, spoke at the rally. Lakeland police fatally shot Taylor in December 2018, claiming the 17-year-old was trying to hit officers as he tried to drive out of a crowded parking lot at the corner of Florida Avenue and Memorial Boulevard. The State Attorney’s Office ruled the use of force as justified in 2019.
“I want to let you guys know: So much work ahead, so much more to be done, and all I ask is to continue to stand together,” Irving said. “Let them know we’re angry, we’re tired, we’re frustrated, and we cannot go on. Ten years from now our kids should not be marching because honestly we are past marching, kneeling and filming. Today we’ve got to get the bull by the horn.”
The rally ended with the singing of “Oh, Freedom:”