‘This is not OK’: Butler County protesters share strong messages in a week of events

Credit: DaytonDailyNews

A crowd gathered at Governor's Square in Middletown on Saturday, June 6, 2020, in protest after the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis.

Credit: DaytonDailyNews

Nearly two weeks after an unarmed black man was killed while in police custody in Minneapolis, and after several peaceful protests were held throughout Butler County, one leader said it’s time for “tough conversations” that must be voiced by representatives of multiple races.

The Rev. Shaquila Mathews, better known as “Pastor Shaq,” said the country needs to say in unison, “This is not OK.”

The Hamilton native 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 Rev. Michael Bailey, pastor at Faith United Church in Middletown and former police chaplain, mentioned the mass incarceration of black men and women and difficult health care issues as two examples of racism in this country, two reasons for the violent protests.

“What has caused all this anger?” he asked. “This is more than another black man dying. If we don’t do something, what’s next?”

Bailey said to reduce the risk of more police violence toward blacks the country needs to “stay focused” and start rebuilding its race relations.

“We have to fix some things before we can put the bricks and mortar together,” he said.

Unrest is sweeping the nation in the wake of the death of George Floyd, who died May 25 after lying handcuffed on the street in the custody of Minneapolis police officers, one of whom held his knee on Floyd’s neck for nearly nine minutes.

In the past week, Butler County residents have held events in Hamilton, Middletown, Fairfield, West Chester Twp. and Oxford. On Saturday, protests included peaceful crowds in Hamilton, Middletown and Fairfield, as many in those groups held signs, chanted and expressed concerns.

The largest event Saturday was held in Fairfield, where attendees met at Fairfield Stadium and marched along Nilles Road to Village Green Park. Most took to their knees as others spoke, and the crowd was silent for more than eight minutes to recognize the amount of time a police officer’s knee was on Floyd’s neck.

“We need to make sure that the systems we have that have been built to protect us are protecting all of us,” said Maya Middlebrook, a 2017 Fairfield graduate, who helped to organize the Fairfield event. “We need to make sure the people who hold power within those positions, they are good people.”

Saturday ended more than a week of events in the county in response to Floyd’s death. About 30 people protested peacefully May 30 in Middletown until after dark when some rock-throwing began, according to police Chief David Birk. Police blocked off the entrance to the police station on Reinartz Boulevard, and officers were stationed on a plaza nearby to keep the building safe.

Birk said some juveniles were seen throwing rocks at cars on Main Street.

Then on Wednesday, about 75 people gathered outside the Middletown City Building, then most marched downtown as car horns could be heard bouncing off buildings.

Several members of the Middletown Division of Police were there and Birk walked with the protesters in 90-degree heat.

Vanessa Enoch, who spoke at the Middletown protest, said “police and community relations need to change. We are in full support of having law enforcement, but we believe that law enforcement should work with the citizens and for the citizens, not against them.”

On May 31, about 350 people walked on High Street sidewalks about eight blocks from the 900 block of High Street to the Butler County Courthouse. They then walked around the courthouse block seven times, as the Israelites did in the Bible on the seventh day of walking around the city of Jericho.

Aisia Chandler, 44, of Fairfield, who is black, said it was her first protest, and she went “because it’s a peaceful one that is a great cause, and it’s a church-led protest.”

Protesters returned to Hamilton on Wednesday and marched through downtown Hamilton and at one point stopped, knelt and held fists in the air.

The protesters stopped their march at the intersection of Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard and High Street and knelt, chanting things such as “no justice, no peace, no racist police.”

They continued to chant and hold signs at the intersection as many cars honked as they drove past.

A peaceful protest was held Tuesday at the West Chester Clock Tower and there was some concern about potential violence after many of the protesters from Cincinnati indicated they were participating.

At one point, when the crowd dropped to one knee, they were joined by West Chester police officers.

West Chester police Chief Joel Herzog said “change happens” through peaceful protests.

“This demonstration, protest, whatever you want to call it, is absolutely OK in West Chester,” he said. “This is positive. This is how change happens — open dialogue, discussion. There’s some passion going on. There’s some prayer going on.”

Another peaceful protest, this one in Oxford, was held Thursday morning.

Several hundred people, mostly young, marched to the Oxford Police Station, then to the Oxford Courthouse where the protesters took a knee.

Most people agree protests are necessary and are part of the American fabric as long as they’re peaceful.

Sgt. Earl Nelson, the highest-ranking black member of the Middletown Division of Police, said violent protests do not help the messages of seeking change. He’d also like to see more minority officers hired by departments. He said Middletown “actively” recruits minority candidates.

Jackie Phillips, Middletown’s health commissioner, 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.”

This story contains reporting from staff writers Ed Richter and Mike Rutledge.