Protesters continued organizing on Lafayette’s streets Saturday, marching through downtown and shouting for justice while demanding local elected officials listen to their requests and calls for action.
The youth-led collective, who call themselves The Village, gathered at 2 p.m. Saturday near the Gen. Alfred Mouton Confederate monument downtown to protest racial injustice and the death of 31-year-old Trayford Pellerin, who was shot by Lafayette Police officers Aug. 21 at a gas station near NW Evangeline Thruway.
Louisiana State Police investigators said Pellerin was armed with a knife and approaching the door of the convenience store when he was shot. Officers had trailed him for a half mile after responding to a disturbance call and deploying tasers, which were ineffective, state police said.
At about 3:30 p.m. the group marched from downtown to the University of Louisiana at Lafayette campus, where they regrouped and made speeches at Martin Hall. They gathered more marchers and returned downtown to the Mouton statue before dispersing.
Lafayette resident Kalif Cormier, a Village organizer, said the group is challenging all citizens to stand for the values professed when they say the Pledge of Allegiance. Right now, the republic is not offering liberty and justice equally to all its people, he said.
“We pledge allegiance to the flag and to the republic for which it stands, and I don’t believe that’s what everyone is doing currently in our country. We have a lot of people pledging to parties or to politicians,” he said.
“We are so tired of the same things over and over, the same way people are tired of seeing us protest. I’m tired of having to protest and I don’t want to go to my resting place and know my family members to come are going to be tired as well,” Cormier said.
The group laid out several demands of law enforcement and local government, including the release of body camera and surveillance footage from Pellerin’s shooting, the release of the involved officers’ names, the firing and prosecution of the involved officers if Pellerin was unarmed, an explanation for the use of excessive force if Pellerin was armed, de-unionization of the police force and additional training in de-escalation tactics.
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There were familiar faces among the protest crowd, including Lafayette NAACP young adult committee chairperson Devon Norman, Bishop John Milton with Imani Temple 49, Lafayette DJ Roland “Scomoney” Lewis, who organized a Wednesday protest at the federal courthouse, and activist Jamal Taylor, who said he’s received death threats for his protest work.
Norman and others dismissed the idea of violence or destruction in Lafayette, which law enforcement have raised alarms about as they say “out-of-town” agitators are coming to the city.
“What we won’t allow to happen is for anyone to destroy what our ancestors built. Let’s get that straight. We built this state for free. No, we won’t burn it, but we’re going to burn the system you put in the place we built,” Norman said.
On Friday, Mayor-President Josh Guillory extended an emergency proclamation throughout Lafayette Parish through Sept. 11. The proclamation bans minors from being out between 8 p.m. and 6 a.m. It also prohibits loitering and large gatherings in downtown Lafayette.
However, some protesters expressed suspicion that the curfew was aimed at tamping down the protests. Cormier said The Village was planning to gather elsewhere Saturday but shifted course after Guillory’s re-upped proclamation was announced, deciding instead to march in the downtown area defined under the order. He said they had a desire for peace, but also didn’t want to be silenced.
“We are not willing to be pushed and we will not sit down,” Cormier said.
Cormier said he door-knocked for Guillory during the mayor-president’s 2018 Congressional campaign but can no longer support him.
Critics say Guillory isn’t doing enough to sincerely engage the community and listen to the voices of protesters. In a Saturday press conference, Guillory said bluntly he does not intend to meet with protest leaders. He said he’s holding a monthly meeting with local faith leaders, primarily from Lafayette’s northside, and reviving the efforts of the Lafayette Police Department’s community relations committee.
“I haven’t seen any productivity from these acts of crime…I have nothing to say to someone that wants to cause pain in our community. Instead I’m focused on talking with leaders that want to do good and grow from this situation,” Guillory said.
The Village was more organized than attendees at other recent protests. The group donned all black or mostly black outfits, formal members were broken into pods with specific roles such as carrying first aid supplies or wheeling carts of bottled water, and two armed men volunteered to march with the group as security after some, like Taylor, received threats of being shot.
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Catherine Roy, a Lafayette resident, was the leader of a group of designated medics at the rally. She and her cohort were dressed in red to stand out from the crowd, Roy outfitted with a backpack of first aid supplies with “Medic” printed in block letters, and a helmet with a red cross on the front.
Roy said the group held a meeting after individually attending protests and realized they needed to better organize their resources and talents to get their message across. Protesting isn’t the only focus; Roy said the group is also organizing community service and education committees, to engage others and ensure people are educated about their rights and the functioning of local government.
“The police are organized so we need to be organized if we’re going to go up against them and make a change,” she said.
Roy, who identifies as Hispanic but has White skin, said she enjoys White privilege and recognizes the importance of White people and people of different backgrounds standing with the Black community. White people need to help break down understanding and conversation barriers around racial injustice in their circles, she said.
“Hopefully the government and people who stand against it hear our voices because of White allies, and then hopefully hear the voices of Black members,” she said.