‘We have the right to be angry’: Butler County black leaders share thoughts on protests

Black leaders throughout Butler County agreed that peaceful protests were justified and should continue in the wake of a death of an unarmed black man in police custody last week in Minnesota.

But they criticized those who turned the marches into violent acts of crimes that were displayed throughout the U.S. after George Floyd died in police custody in Minneapolis.

The Rev. Shaquila Mathews, better known as “Pastor Shaq,” said protests are “very necessary” and hopefully they will apply pressure to elected officials. She said Floyd never should have died after he was handcuffed by a police officer, who then held his knee on Floyd’s neck even after he pleaded for his life.

“That man was murdered,” Mathews said Tuesday afternoon while sitting on her porch.

She said the police officer, who has been fired and charged with murder, should face the same penalties if it were a black man killing a white police officer.

“It has to go both ways,” she said.

As Mathews watched the repeated videos of the police incident that was caught on a cell phone, she said to herself: “Not again. Are you serious?”

Minutes later, she became “outraged,” she said.

She has been impressed by the diversity of those who have protested and marched throughout Butler County and around the U.S. She said it’s important that all people — not just blacks — be concerned by police misconduct against blacks.

“Other people need to speak up,” she said. “If you say nothing, that says something.”

The highest-ranking black member of the Middletown Division of Police called the death of Floyd “totally unacceptable police work” that resulted from tactics his department is trained not to do.

Sgt. Earl Nelson is one of many black officials in Butler County the Journal-News is engaging in conversations this week about the death of Floyd and the resulting protests.

Nelson said that protests have “been part of our country, and it’s the best way to bring about change.”

But to have violence in protests, he said, does not help the messages of seeking change and one of the steps in helping heal is having more minority officers hired by departments. That would “be a tremendous help,” he said.

Michael Bailey, pastor at Faith United Church in downtown Middletown and former police chaplain, said he feels he has been profiled in the past as a black resident.

“It’s out there,” he said. “I could do all the right things but this still could be my last breath.”

Bailey said he understands the reason behind the protests.

“A lot of anger,” said Bailey, 66. “No different than my anger. People are expressing the pain. We have the right to be angry. Be angry and sin not.”

He said the church needs to be “the lighthouse and the source of truth and the source of healing.” He added that protests allow people to be heard.

“We have a right to be angry (about) all the injustices,” he said.

Mathews agreed. She said churches need to take “an active role with a loud voice” to begin the healing process.

As a mother to two sons and a Godmother, Mathews said it’s “exhausting” talking to them about the proper way to act during any encounter with police. When her oldest son, 17, started driving, she discussed the typical safety measures, but also how to respect police officers and never give them a reason to use force.

Her message: “Come home alive.”

Jackie Phillips, Middletown’s health commissioner, said after watching the video of Floyd’s death, she “tried to make sense of it.”

Eventually that didn’t work.

“It was just unbelievable,” she said Tuesday while sitting in her office in the City Building. “I didn’t believe it.”

Phillips said she supports and encourages protesting. But she’s against loitering and violence.

“You don’t want crime and destruction,” said Phillips, 59, who lives in Middletown. “But a life should never be equated to property damage. This is a racial storm and most storms have damage.”

Protests need to last longer than a weekend or a week, she said.

“It should be forever,” said Phillips, adding protesting can look differently and include buying dollars, local votes, changing policies, sitting on boards and commissions and being policymakers.

Terry Sherrer, 53, executive director of the United Way of Greater Cincinnati - Middletown Area, supports those who are protesting, but he wants no more loitering.

“Stay out of this,” he said when asked what he’d tell those responsible for property damage. “It creates a different conversation for those who are not against racism.”

Sherrer was asked what it’s like living in Cincinnati as a black man. “Fearful.” he said.

He has numerous friends who are black, including three sons and nephews. He doesn’t want to feel the pain of those who have lost relatives to police brutality.

“Mr. Floyd could have been anyone I have known or loved,” he said. “It’s time for this country to say this needs to stop.”

As an executive with the United Way, Sherrer said he needs to use the “correct voice” when expressing his feeling about racial injustice. He’s in the “people business” and in his position he unites people, he said.

“But make no mistake, I’m angry,” he said.

About the Author