STREAMING NOW: Watch Now

Protest, counter-protest and repentance gathering converge in Big Spring Park

The protest and the repentance gathering were designed to move the city forward constructively, while a counter protest at times went against both groups.

Posted: Jun 27, 2020 12:37 AM

As coronavirus cases continue to rise in Madison County, dozens gathered in Big Spring Park to demonstrate. 

There were three distinct groups who came out Friday night: one made of multiple churches and their congregants, which held a "Day of Repentance" event; a Black Lives Matter protest, which included an event called "Together We Stand; and a counter protest movement, which consisted people who wore jackets from "SOAPA" (Street and Open Air Preachers of America) and held signs with messages like "No women pastors" and "Fake Christians go to hell!"

Community activist Damar Thomas speaks at the Black Lives Matter gathering in Big Spring Park called Community activist Damar Thomas speaks at the Black Lives Matter gathering in Big Spring Park called "Together We Stand." It was one of three large gatherings in the park Friday night.

Only the "Day of Repentance" event had a permit from the city. 

Masks were worn at varying levels depending on the group. The vast majority of people in the BLM gathering had on face coverings and a majority did in the "Day of Repentance" group, but none of the counter protesters wore masks. 

Comedian Will Johnson wore his mask and was a part of the permitted gathering. He said it was important for him and others to wear face coverings while in large group settings.

"We do have to take proper precaution. Let's stop the spread. And I know people feel like, 'Oh, it's just too much!' but that's because they're smelling their breath up under there. Just put a mint in there and put your mask on! Mint and mask, they go together," Johnson said.

Johnson said he previously tested positive for coronavirus and was in self quarantine for the recommended 14 days. He said he was largely asymptomatic, but got a test out of an abundance of caution. 

"I think the hardest thing about the coronavirus was not knowing: is it gone, is it still here, what do I do? What you do is stay consistent with your routine until you get the clear," Johnson said. "Stay in the house 14 days. It's not going to kill you. Just chill! Stay home, do some homework, get a coloring book, TicTok. That's what I did everyday: TicTocks. I started on TicTock."

After going through the experience, Johnson said he was even more vigilant about wearing a mask while out in public. His friend Aspen Bowie agreed.

"I think that's the biggest thing. You use wisdom and you do what is best for you and if you choose not to wear one, I'm not going to judge you, but I'm going to do what's best for me," Bowie said.

Around the time the "Day of Repentance" event began, the BLM gathering started. It included several speakers and singers who were pushing for significant change in Huntsville and said they were not ok with what the city had done so far.

"They need to learn to listen to what these people are saying. We're not going away. The response last week was deplorable and they have a lot of atoning to do for what they did last week," said Lynda Harrison-Gaines, one of the protesters.

Harrison-Gaines was there with her husband and son, all with masks. They said it was important to support the movement as a family and wanted to speak out against how Huntsville Police responded to the early June protests and the after action report given last week.

Huntsville Councilman Will Culver listened at the BLM protest and was asked to speak at the "Day of Repentance" gathering. He said he understands the calls for change that residents are making.

"What I'm hearing from the general public is they want to ensure that things like this (the killing of George Floyd) don't happen anywhere anymore. And for that to take place, it's going to require some revising and revisiting of our criminal justice system, which includes law enforcement," Culver said.

When asked about which steps he would like to see, Culver said one change need is that "police officers using the chokehold, that is going to have to be completely eliminated."

Huntsville Police told WAAY 31 they are currently listening to those protesting and working on ways to improve the department. They said there are some things protesters are calling for that have already been put into practice, like additional training for crisis intervention. The 16-hour course is currently mandatory for all cadets and there is a pathway to create certified mental health officers, of which there are currently about half a dozen. 

Those officers work with Wellstone Behavioral Health and the Madison County Probate Judge to help avoid incarceration for those who have a mental illness.

During the "Day of Repentance," several pastors along with Huntsville Mayor Tommy Battle spoke about the work that needs to be done to heal the city. At one point, the pastors gathered to pray over Battle and the work ahead.

"When you start talking about people coming back to God, repentance, it's a message that Pastor Henderson brought, he had it in his heart, wanted to bring it out to the city. He asked me to come and I thought, 'Wow, what a great message to give to the city,'" Battle said.

During these gatherings, two full senior classes made their way in and out of the Von Braun Center for their graduation ceremonies. Pastor Curtis Henderson from One in Christ International said seeing the grads amid the convergence of the three groups in Big Spring Park made him pause and reflect on the gravity of the moment.

"It was a great indication of how badly we need the city healed because when we have young people graduating, we have another generation rising and that's why this is important for our hearts to come together," Henderson said.

Meanwhile, Johnson said he was glad the main message of the day didn't get derailed, even as the counter protesters tried to pull attention.

"Everybody has different agendas, but if we're all of one accord, it's still going to go, it's still going to happen, nothing can stop that. There's going to be a disturbance. So, you know, it happens," Johnson said.

Huntsville
Scattered Clouds
80° wxIcon
Hi: 73° Lo: 67°
Feels Like: 84°
Florence
Broken Clouds
77° wxIcon
Hi: 86° Lo: 69°
Feels Like: 79°
Fayetteville
Clear
81° wxIcon
Hi: 81° Lo: 67°
Feels Like: 81°
Decatur
Clear
81° wxIcon
Hi: 76° Lo: 67°
Feels Like: 85°
Scottsboro
Clear
81° wxIcon
Hi: 80° Lo: 67°
Feels Like: 85°
WAAY Radar
WAAY WAAY-TV Cam
WAAY Temperatures

Alabama Coronavirus Cases

Confirmed Cases: 49892

Reported Deaths: 1077
CountyConfirmedDeaths
Jefferson6433170
Mobile4753139
Montgomery4430112
Tuscaloosa263253
Madison21199
Marshall192611
Shelby164225
Lee157237
Morgan12695
Baldwin120711
Walker106131
Elmore102920
Dallas9969
Etowah95114
DeKalb9417
Franklin93216
Autauga67614
Russell6750
Chambers67427
Unassigned65328
Butler65129
Tallapoosa62869
Limestone6223
Houston5857
Cullman5716
Lauderdale5686
St. Clair5133
Colbert4956
Calhoun4905
Lowndes48122
Escambia4808
Pike4725
Coffee4244
Jackson4182
Covington41412
Barbour3942
Dale3911
Talladega3897
Bullock37710
Marengo35211
Hale34823
Chilton3232
Clarke3126
Wilcox3038
Blount2961
Winston2965
Sumter29113
Marion27514
Pickens2696
Randolph2589
Monroe2553
Perry2362
Conecuh2308
Bibb2211
Macon2159
Choctaw21212
Greene1959
Henry1533
Washington1418
Crenshaw1273
Lawrence1250
Cherokee1237
Geneva960
Lamar871
Clay852
Fayette821
Coosa651
Cleburne421
Out of AL00

Tennessee Coronavirus Cases

Confirmed Cases: 61006

Reported Deaths: 738
CountyConfirmedDeaths
Shelby13423223
Davidson13162143
Rutherford352539
Hamilton330538
Sumner189756
Williamson170816
Knox15919
Trousdale15085
Out of TN138410
Wilson114817
Putnam10117
Bradley9594
Robertson92413
Sevier9153
Unassigned9102
Montgomery7327
Lake6970
Tipton6967
Bledsoe6291
Bedford6239
Macon5977
Hamblen4724
Maury4543
Hardeman4114
Fayette3685
Madison3522
Blount3403
Loudon3322
Rhea3150
Dyer2913
McMinn27619
Cheatham2693
Washington2610
Dickson2580
Lawrence2326
Cumberland2134
Sullivan2104
Anderson1952
Jefferson1821
Lauderdale1804
Gibson1771
Monroe1556
Greene1512
Smith1502
Coffee1410
Cocke1360
Hardin1257
Warren1230
Obion1192
Haywood1183
Franklin1163
Marshall1152
Wayne1150
Carter1031
Giles1031
Hickman1030
McNairy1011
Marion944
Hawkins862
Lincoln860
DeKalb850
White853
Roane810
Overton721
Henderson710
Weakley701
Campbell691
Claiborne680
Grundy652
Chester630
Unicoi590
Grainger560
Polk550
Carroll521
Crockett523
Henry510
Cannon490
Sequatchie490
Jackson470
Johnson460
Humphreys392
Meigs380
Perry370
Morgan311
Decatur270
Fentress260
Scott260
Stewart260
Union250
Moore210
Clay200
Houston200
Benton151
Hancock110
Lewis110
Van Buren90
Pickett70

 

 

Community Events