Tension filled Kelly Ingram Park on Friday evening as several hundred people gathered at the end of a week where police shootings of two unarmed black men were on video and five white police officers were shot to death in Dallas.
“There were a bunch of different vibes,” said Jeff Dubose, a protester at the rally in downtown Birmingham. “Some angry, some concerned, some passionate; but everyone was on accord for the true purpose” to address issues between law enforcement and blacks.
Dubose said he hopes the protest is not in vain. “If we don’t start loving each other nothing will ever change,” he said.
People of all backgrounds gathered as Birmingham Mayor William Bell; Police Chief A.C. Roper; City Council President Johnathan Austin and a number of community activists spoke.
“When I first saw those [videos] the first thing I felt was sadness; then I felt anger,” Austin said. “I know that those two individuals could have been me.”
Austin, 37, said he has experienced discrimination and being profiled.
“Forget about the fact that I’m an elected official, I am a young black male who has experienced these things; I understand what it feels like,” he said.
Austin said he hopes there are other ways to solve the issues between the black community and law enforcement.
“One is by establishing a human rights commission,” he said. “We are able to hold those who protect and serve us accountable. When you have the police policing themselves, it’s like the fox watching the henhouse.”
After the protesting is done work must continue to bring change, Austin said.
“We want to hold our elected officials accountable to put things in place and make sure that they are representing the citizens,” he said. “We also want people to come out and vote and be part of the process.”
He added, “People have to be real with themselves and say ‘this is an issue’; the community has a responsibility too. If you see something, say something.” Austin said.
Roper expressed grief not only for the police officers in Dallas, but also for Alton Sterling, the black man shot to death by white officers in Baton Rouge and Philando Castile, the black man shot in Falcon Heights, Minnesota. Roper assured protestors that the police department is working to make change.
He said officers are being trained . . . “we know we have to do better. Our communities deserve it,” the chief said.
After the rally the crowd marched from Kelly Ingram Park to the police headquarters chanting “Black Lives Matter” and “Hands Up, Don’t shoot.”