Dense holiday traffic inched along Ambassador Caffery Parkway at Dover Boulevard in Lafayette on Saturday afternoon as more than 100 protesters with a Lives Matter Rally lay silent upon a grassy patch beside the roadway.
Before a minute had passed, a driver revved the engine of his towering pickup and blasted a thick cloud of black smoke into the faces of the men, women and children staging a five-minute “die-in” to protest lives lost at the hands of police officers.
At least one other diesel truck “coal-rolled” the crowd, spewing smoke at the demonstrators, in what amounted to a sort of counter-protest. Meanwhile, some other drivers chose to give it a thumbs-down, the middle finger or suggestions like, “Go home!” and “Follow the law!”
Other drivers applauded the marchers with honks, waves and peace signs as the demonstrators marched a mile up and down Ambassador Caffery Parkway from Kaliste Saloom Road, chanting and holding signs plastered with the names and faces of people who have been killed during encounters with police.
The faces on the signs included that of Victor White III, the 22-year-old New Iberia man who died March 2 from a gunshot wound while handcuffed in the backseat of a deputy’s cruiser.
His father, the Rev. Victor White Sr., shed a tear as he stood beside his wife, Vanessa, and addressed the crowd.
“My son, his life did matter. And it still matters,” said White, who strongly disputes the coroner’s report that labeled his son’s death a suicide.
“How can we have closure when we don’t have answers?” White asked.
Before the march, participants stood in silence as organizer Denise Gobert, a 27-year-old private music teacher from Lafayette, read the names of people who were killed in encounters with police over the last 30 days.
“This is not just about today. We’ve got to have continued efforts,” Gobert said. “We want to make sure there’s an end to police brutality, harassment, murder and racial profiling.”
As the marchers approached the corner of Ambassador Caffery Parkway and Settlers Trace Boulevard, Lafayette resident Yvonne Adams stood there alone shouting the words inscribed on her neon poster: “No cops! No peace!”
Although the “coal rollers” and some of those driving past also made it clear they didn’t support the marchers, Adams was the only counterprotester standing along the route.
“Nobody stands up for police officers,” Adams said. “I’ve known police officers, and oftentimes, they have seconds to make decisions. I felt it important for someone to come out and stand up for them.”
As Adams spoke, Spence and Trudie Woods, Lafayette residents who said they’ve worked in the past in Mississippi as a police officer and a police dispatcher, respectively, approached Adams from a nearby parking lot and handed her a cup of coffee, applauding her effort.
“I think people are reading into their own beliefs and not relying on the evidence,” Spence Woods said of the protesters.
New Iberia resident William Wassell, a retired radiologist who marched at the Saturday rally, said he felt compelled to support the cause to raise awareness about what he characterized as “incompetent” policing.
“This is not a protest about police. This is a protest against bad police work,” Wassell said. “And when we live in a country where we’re debating whether torture is good or bad, we really have no example to follow.”
It was the second protest against police brutality this week in Lafayette, as a crowd of about 40 marched on downtown’s Second Saturday ArtWalk Dec. 14 and staged a die-in. Another crowd of about 70 held a peaceful demonstration Thursday evening in front of the St. Landry Parish courthouse in Opelousas.
Follow Lanie Lee Cook on Twitter, @lanieleecook, or contact her by phone at (337) 534-0825.