May 30 was a National Day of Protest declared by the National Alliance Against Racist and Political Repression (NAARPR) in response to the death of George Floyd and ongoing police brutality. Valparaiso community members organized a peaceful protest in solidarity with the organization.
The protest began at 11 a.m. in front of the courthouse facing Lincolnway. Multiple generations attended in support of the Black Lives Matter movement.
George Terrell, group member of Allies Against Racism and White Supremacy, witnessed racism in Valparaiso since childhood.
“We are a largely White community in a town that was a sundown town. We had signs posted in our town saying that if you are Black, you had to be out of town by sundown. We had a rally of 15,000 Klansmen in the 20s. Those forces still exist here,” said Terrell.
One woman in attendance was committed to the issue from a broader perspective.
“I just want the powers to see that we are all on this side. This is the right side. It’s not that we live in Valpo. It’s important for everyone. I’m privileged, entitled, almost feel guilty for being here. But we must. We must.”
A group of women in their early 20s asked to remain anonymous. They felt strongly about attending as a way to acknowledge their privilege as White women.
One said, “I’m here because I recognize racial injustice, and I think that people in our town need to see that it’s important, even if it doesn’t affect us directly. It still affects Black people, and it’s not right for people to lose their lives, especially to people that are supposed to protect them.”
Another added, “To not acknowledge that we have the privilege to be here and do this is to amplify the issue and the problem.”
The police offered their support as soon as protesters began arriving. They approached the group multiple times to ask if they were comfortable and if they needed anything.
Megan McDaniel, a graduate student at VU, said, “We had a few people come up and try to start something by arguing with us, but the police were right behind us and were quick to move those people along.”
Other than those isolated incidents that warranted police support, the protest remained peaceful. McDaniel estimated between 100 to 150 community members attended.
“Somebody donated a bunch of Designer Desserts cupcakes to us, somebody else donated water and granola bars and Harley Davidson donated Dominos pizzas. There’s still work to be done, but I was really proud of our Valpo community yesterday,” said McDaniel.
A memorial procession for a Valparaiso police officer who died on duty last week was heading from the Porter County Expo Center to the police station. There was also a vendor event for local businesses encouraging local economic stimulation. Both were in the same downtown area as the protest, but the three events were not related.
Chief Jeffrey Balon of the Valparaiso Police Department issued a statement on May 29 in response to George Floyd’s death.
“Recently, there have been requests for my comment regarding the use of force incident by police that has gained national attention. I want to assure all citizens in Valparaiso, that the Valparaiso Police Department administration will not tolerate excessive use of force by our police officers. Our officers receive de-escalation, and implicit-bias training. Each use of force incident must be documented and reviewed by police administration, and we have policies in place that forbid excessive use of force by our officers. To assist with transparency, our officers are equipped with body worn cameras, and they activate the device prior to a call for service.The Valparaiso Police Department focuses on transparency, training, and hiring good people. It is also very important the Valparaiso Police Department administration sets the culture of the department, and insures officers have a clear and precise understanding of our expectations. Diversity, inclusion and community engagement has always been important between police and all citizens, but now more than ever. It is important to us that no group or individual feel targeted or excluded. Our officers work diligently to assure all citizens are provided professional and responsive service. We are very proud of every officer and have no doubt they do their best every day.”
If you are a Valpo student or alumni who attended protests of any form this past week and feel comfortable doing so, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org to share your experience.