OPELOUSAS — “Hands up! Don’t shoot!”
“Enough is enough!”
“Every life matters!”
Familiar chants rang through Courthouse Square in Opelousas as a crowd gathered peacefully Thursday evening to join the national conversation denouncing police brutality and racial profiling.
About 70 people braved the chill and threat of rain to show support, some watching from the streets and sidewalks, while others lined the steps of the St. Landry Parish Courthouse with posters and T-shirts that read “I can’t breathe!” — the last words of Eric Garner, who died from a chokehold by a New York City police officer.
“This is for peace,” District B Alderman-elect Tyrone Glover told the crowd to cheers and applause. “We do not want any of this to come to our city or our parish.”
Glover, a community activist and manager of community radio station KOCZ, organized the event with Opelousas resident Carolyn Hayes, 40, of the Bold & Beautiful Divas Social Club.
Hayes said although her 20-year-old son is a college student who has never been in trouble, she fears that his appearance — he’s a young, tattooed, black man — could lead to a profiling problem.
“Because of him, I wanted to do this,” Hayes said.
Opelousas resident Shonda Brooks, 41, works with the Family Strong Foundation, a nonprofit organization that encourages social, family and financial empowerment for the residents of St. Landry Parish through community outreach and education.
Brooks stood on the courthouse steps with her son, Tyron Levier, and godson, Deon Guillory. Both are 8 years old.
“If you want to make a change, you need to have your family out here so when it’s their time, they can make the change happen,” Brooks said.
Erica Tyler, a 22-year-old psychology senior at Southern University, echoed that sentiment and encouraged the crowd to “feed positivity” to their young children.
“The males that were killed, they were profiled because of their appearance,” Tyler said. “I’m not saying you have to be like a white man. Just be smart.”
State Police are investigating an October officer-involved shooting on Pulford Street in Opelousas.
Demarcus Jones, 23, was shot in his left side during a police pursuit. The unnamed officer involved, who was not injured and has since been placed on administrative leave, claims Jones fired the first shot, Chief Perry Gallow said at the time. Jones was arrested but has since been released from jail.
Although Glover billed Thursday’s rally as one that would include law enforcement, Opelousas Police Chief-elect Donald Thompson — who had previously told Glover he would attend — was not present, nor was Mayor-elect Reggie Tatum. Sheriff Bobby Guidroz bowed out on his RSVP on Wednesday, citing a scheduling conflict.
Standing beside Glover in front of the crowd, Sheriff’s Office spokesman Sgt. Clay Higgins appeared on Guidroz’s behalf.
“Regardless of the difference in opinion, this is part of the national conversation,” Higgins said. “One opinion that doesn’t vary is that law enforcement should support constitutional rights, and we certainly do.”
Carla Arceneaux, 53, owns a vintage boutique across the street from the courthouse. Hers is the sole operating business among a line of vacant units on the street.
Arceneaux moved to the city of about 16,500 three years ago from Wabasha, Minnesota, with her Opelousas-born husband.
“This is my community,” Arceneaux said. “I totally support and rely on this community, and I support this cause. It doesn’t matter what color we are. We are human beings.”
Follow Lanie Lee Cook on Twitter, @lanieleecook, or contact her by phone at (337) 534-0825.