There were a lot more speeches, more palpable anger, more names of the dead spoken and memorialized in signs, more variety in ages, with a distinctly younger crowd whose voices were amplified by a bullhorn.
Flagler Beach’s late afternoon march Wednesday to protest the murder of George Floyd at police’s hands included many of the 200-some people who’d protested at midday through the heart of Palm Coast. But by the time it had crossed the State Road 100 bridge and thronged in a large circle around an amphitheatre-like tribune where mostly young, impassioned protesters spoke, the march had grown to upwards of 300 people–a considerable number for Flagler Beach. (Flagler Beach police put the estimate at 200 people, but an analysis of images of the protest clearly puts the number higher than 300.) The hour morphed into a teach-in as speaker after speaker mixed personal experiences with visceral anger, calls to action, hope and urgency.
Few marchers were without signs, fewer still without voices as they first gathered at Wadsworth Park, where parking ran out, before crossing the bridge twice, with the tribune in Veterans Park taking place in between. Flagler Beach Police Chief Matt Doughney marched with the protesters both times across the bridge and largely kept his and the Flagler County Sheriff’s personnel at the far rim of the protest, except when the marchers crossed the bridge, where they were given police escorts with patrol cars and deputies on bicycles.
As at the Palm Coast march earlier, Doughney and the sheriff’s office reported zero incidents, though a few businesses in Flagler Beach had closed out of fear that they might be targeted by looters–just as Bealls, Walmart and Kohl’s had closed earlier in the day in Palm Coast. The marchers dismissed any notion of violence, not wanting to be tainted by the isolated actions of a few detractors elsewhere, or media’s tendency to disproportionately play up a few images of violence to the detriment of the innumerable, peaceful marches of the last few days.
“Of course there’s always going to be anger in it,” Enosch Henry, a 2018 graduate of Flagler Palm Coast High School and one of the speakers, said afterward. “We’re doing this out of passion, and passion brings out a lot of emotion, so anger, love, hope, faith, you know what I mean? Fear. But I think the main thing that we were drawing on was a sense of hope, because the main theme through everyone speaking was that there’s going to be change. For the better, not for worse. You know what I mean? Yeah, I’m convinced. I believe. Because what’s happening right now has never happened before in American history, to the extent that it’s happening, and the whole societal impact that it’s happening right now. It’s completely different. There’s going to be a change, and America is not going to be the same that it was in 2019, 2018, 2017, 2016. This is different, especially with everything that’s gone on, Covid-19 and all that, people are struggling, you know what I mean? So it’s going to be different.”
As Henry was speaking, differentiating the day’s marches from those of the past, he could have been echoing the words of President Obama, who just then was speaking in a virtual town hall and making a similar comparison, dismissing the criticism that nothing has changed since 1964. “You look at those protests,” Obama said of the current rounds, “and that was a far more representative cross-section of America out on the streets peacefully protesting, and who felt moved to do something because of the injustices that they had seen. That didn’t exist back in the 1960s, that kind of broad coalition. The fact that recent surveys have showed that despite some protests having then been marked by the actions of some, a tiny minority that engaged in violence, as usual that got a lot of attention and a lot of focus, despite all that a majority of Americans still think those protests were justified. That wouldn’t have existed 30, 40, 50 years ago.”
Henry, who had been at the Palm Coast protest earlier in the day, sought to make one other distinction: Henry had been at the Palm Coast protest earlier. “It’s more visible,” he said, with social media “where people are actively watching. It has its pros, it has its cons, but with this whole movement, I promise you, this whole movement would not have been as strong without social media, because we saw the video. Usually when things like this happen, people try to discredit the victim, they try to say he had a criminal past, oh, he was resisting, he was doing this. With the video, nine minutes, all right? Nine minutes the officer had his knee on George Floyd’s neck, and we saw it, the whole nine minutes, he was not resisting, he was peaceful. We saw it. They can’t argue against that.”
But the fear of protest is undeniable, too: there’d been a Flagler Beach march organized earlier in the week, only to be cancelled, said Madison Barchowski and Emily Sonni, who ended up becoming the de facto organizers of Wednesday’s march.
Sonni had just woken up over a week ago when her boyfriend was watching the video of George Floyd. She watched the whole thing and broke down. “We are not in control right now but we are trucking to be in control, and we need to be in control, and that’s why we do things like this,” Sonni, 23, said. Barchowski, Sonni’s closest friend, had a similar reaction to the video. She was speaking with her mother–Karen Barchowski, owner of Sally’s Ice Cream in Flagler Beach with a social conscience of her own, but not necessarily on social media–and found out that she had not been as aware of the recent violence, because she also doesn’t watch television. “I was sending her videos, and then I was just talking to my sister, and I just broke down, like I felt we’re never going to see change,” Barchowski said. She decided to re-start the effort the Facebook push had tried, but off of social media, by word of mouth, to avoid drawing threats. “I figured, well, if they don’t know where we’re going to be and when we’re going to be there, then we can do it,” Barchowski said.
Word spread plenty, of course, with the local Democratic clubs helping. Barchowski and Sonni didn’t realize to what extent: they had not expected the turnout Wednesday. “Somebody told me that they were told people didn’t think it was going to be good for the businesses in town and it was going to get violent, and I was like, one, I don’t think that’s true, and two, I was like, they’re not going to silence us. We should not be the one to stay home. They should be the ones to stay home. So it was like, no, we’re not going to stay home.”
Word spread. “When we were on the bridge and I looked behind us, that’s when I realized the amount of people and how strong our word of mouth got to everybody,” Sonni said. “The whole bridge was from start to finish, people. I feel amazing about that because we did not expect this. We expected it to be close friends and family. It just shows how much–we’re not going to be silenced.”
She spoke of the distinct difference between the Flagler Beach march and Palm Coast’s, what turned into as close as a teach-in as Flagler County has seen: “We wanted to give people the ability to voice how they felt and their experiences, if they had any. That was our main goal, is we wanted to let people use their voice.” After crossing the bridge a second time with the marchers, Flagler Beach Police Chief Matt Doughney said social media had drawn the attention of authorities, “but we work extremely well with Sheriff Staly and his staff,” he said, “so we’ve been working on this since the weekend, and it was a concerted effort between the sheriff’s office and our department. And again, the folks that came out–and I’m really proud of the younger folks that came out–they conducted themselves in a manner that they should really, really be proud of.” Of his reaction to the George Floyd killing, he said: “What happened in Minneapolis was not only criminal, it was hateful, and they need to be held accountable. Any professional police officer knows that their job that they swore to protect, they let their community down.”
Doughney said there’d been no reported issues in connection with the protest.
Being a business owner herself, Karen Barchowski was asked what message she had for fellow-business owners who’d worried about the march’s effects. She paused, took time to answer–almost as long as Canadian Premier Justin Trudeau took when asked about America’s protests, though unlike Trudeau, Barchowski answered directly: “Stop being fearful. Stop being fearful. This is the time when we need to show unity inside of a community, be it a business, be it–just because you’re a business doesn’t mean you should not put your heart out and speak what you believe in, does not mean you should not stand up for injustice. Use your platform. They’re more accountable even than anybody else because, guess what, they have it, they have it, people come there, so what they bring away from there–”
“They’re big tourist destinations,” Sonni says.
“Exactly,” Barchowski continues. “What kind of town do we want to be? I want to be a town united. I want to be a town that people come to and say, look at all these businesses that are supporting equality, OK? Supporting black lives. Everyone is welcome, no matter what you are, no matter who you are, you know. It’s an easy talk. But walk it. Walk it. In DeLand, every single store supported. I live in DeLand, I have to commute, but every single store: United. DeLand, United. DeLand, United. They show their support, they were out giving water bottles. Business here shut down because they said we were going to cause violence. It was the fear that was put online of course, with all these people saying this stuff.”
It’s those messages that are promoting violence, Barchowski said–the Facebook posters disseminating discriminatory and fearmongering messages about protesters. “So my message is, stop living in fear, come from a place of love, look at your fellow man, and use your platform. Sally’s never shies away. Sally’s will not be silent. Ever.”