On a warm, humid evening in O’Fallon, at least 1,200 people marched peacefully and loudly from Fort Zumwalt West High onto Mexico Road then west to Bryan Road, then north to the O’Fallon Justice Center near Veterans Parkway and Interstate 70.
The march in support of justice for George Floyd in Minneapolis and for Black Live Matter overall was organized by Fort Zumwalt West students, whose leaders worked with local authorities to create a safe environment for everyone to exercise their constitutional rights for freedom of assembly and freedom of speech. Word of the march had spread via Facebook, Twitter and other social media, drawing people from O’Fallon and nearby communities.
When the crowd of about 1,200 started moving at 7 p.m, at least 100 or more people continued streaming toward the school’s parking lot and the route of march, having been delayed by backed-up traffic on Bryan Road and a shortage of parking near the school. To provide safe passage for the marchers, O’Fallon Police had blocked Mexico Road near the high school and closed Mexico Road from the Bryan Road intersection all the way north to Veterans Parkway.
O’Fallon Police Chief Tim Clothier and many O’Fallon Police officers joined the march, arm-in-arm, to support its message.
As everyone assembled prior to 7 p.m, the O’Fallon Police presence was very low key and friendly, with a few officers among the crowd. Two police chaplains participated along with a local pastor in leading a prayer just before the march started.
All ages and races were there, with numerous signs, and a quiet determination to give voice and visibility to the issues.
As the marchers walked, they chanted loudly, “No justice, no peace.” Hundreds of signs were used. Most were hand-made and carried slogans such as: “Black Lives Matter,” “I Can’t Breathe,” “Christ Stood with the Oppressed – Will you?,” “Justice for George Floyd,” “No racist police,” “End police brutality,” “I will never understand, but I will stand with you.”
Several marchers were willing to be interviewed but wanted to use only their first names or in some cases remain anonymous. O’Fallon resident Dillon, 25, said he was seeking an end to institutional racism. A white man, he said he was there because his 13-year-old sister alerted him about the march, which she supported as well.
A 22-year-old white woman from Wentzville had heard about the march on Facebook. “People have had enough of that type of incident, and we must change through love,” she said, adding that those assembled would march peacefully “but loudly to get everyone to pay attention.”
Asked what justice she was seeking, she said, “All of the police officers who were right there when Mr. Floyd was killed must be charged and tried.” She decried the fact that George Floyd “was on video for 10 minutes where he 11 times said he can’t breathe and he also called for his mother.”
Warrenton resident Jade said Black Lives Matter and the latest killing was terrible. A white woman, she said she wants to see a day in the near future when there are no “bad apples” in police departments.
“Too many times, we hear that as an excuse. It’s time for all police departments to get rid of their bad apples and provide more justice to all people of color. System racism must end,” Jade said.
Fort Zumwalt West students Willie, Trey, Darian, Lindsey and Erica were there for support. They said they all believe that all of the police officers involved in the killing of George Floyd should be convicted. The African American youths had signs stating, “No justice, no peace” and “I can’t breathe.”
No one was visibly or vocally against what the marchers were saying or doing. The entire crowd seemed to be of the same mind and belief. There were no counter-protesters. Cars driving by honked their horns in support. In what has been unusual for this type of demonstration march, there was no police cordon along the route. Everyone was able to walk in what felt like a safe setting.