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'Ain't No Negativity Allowed': In Anna, nearly 200 demonstrate against police brutality
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'Ain't No Negativity Allowed': In Anna, nearly 200 demonstrate against police brutality

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Editor's note: This story discusses offensive racist slurs.

ANNA — Nearly 200 people marched peacefully Thursday through Anna’s city streets to bring attention to police brutality in the wake of the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis Police custody.

Floyd, who was black, died Memorial Day after a white police officer pinned his knee to Floyd's neck for nearly nine minutes while he was prone and handcuffed. His death sparked protests and civil unrest throughout the United States.

Anna’s march was one of many in small towns through the region — a rally in Carterville drew about 150 people Wednesday — but it is especially significant here because of the city’s history as a haven for racism.

What started as a small group of about 50 to 60 demonstrators in Anna’s city park grew to nearly 200 as it made its way downtown. Gathered in a parking lot, demonstrators recited familiar chants of “black lives matter” and “no justice, no peace.”

One man addressed the crowd.

“You put yourself in their shoes,” he said of watching cellphone or surveillance videos of black men and women die at the hands of police. 

“This pain is not necessary,” he said.

Another reminded demonstrators and onlookers of Anna’s unofficial acronym: “Ain’t No N------ Allowed.”

“But we are changing that today,” one marcher shouted. This was later met with an alternative acronym: “Ain’t No Negativity Allowed.”

Across the street and along the marching path were onlookers, some clearly there to antagonize marchers. Responding to the “black lives matter” refrain being raised by the group, one white man said, “not to me they don’t.” Others also quietly chanted “all lives matter.”

There were moments of tension, but the only people taken away by police were instigators attempting to argue with demonstrators.

In Anna, nearly 200 demonstrate against police brutality

Police confront a man antagonizing protestors in Anna Thursday.

Mildred Henderson was driven to the demonstration from her home in Olmsted. She was pushed in a wheelchair throughout the march. Henderson, a black woman, said she began marching in 1978. Her first demonstration was a Take Back the Night rally against domestic violence. She said she’s marched for civil rights for decades.

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“I certainly didn’t think I’d be marching again,” she said. Henderson said she had hope that significant change would come when President Barack Obama was elected in 2008. But, she said, she was heartened to see so many people standing for civil rights in Anna.

“I’ve never seen so many white people give a darn about black people,” she said.

Takiyah Coleman was often at the head of the march and in the middle of the demonstration. Coleman, a 19-year-old black resident of Anna, said racism still has a home in Anna. She said when she tells her friends where she lives, they “automatically know” what the town’s reputation is.

In Anna, nearly 200 demonstrate against police brutality

Protesters march down Davie Street in Anna on Thursday as part of a rally in response to the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis last week.

When asked why some people consider Anna’s racist reputation to be strictly a thing of the past, she was frank.

“Because it’s not happening to them,” she said.

She said she hopes that by marching, people will see and begin to understand life in her shoes.

Jenna Gomez, 18, of Cobden, was one of the organizers of Thursday's march. She said the purpose for the march was to correct the perception of what Anna is.

In Anna, nearly 200 demonstrate against police brutality

Jenna Gomez, 18, of Cobden, leads chants Thursday in Anna during a rally protesting police brutality.

“We wanted to bring this to show that Anna is not, by any means, what people say it is,” she said, in reference to the town’s racist history. She said the turnout, which exceeded her initial estimates of fewer than 10 people, made her feel appreciated.

Police presence was noticeable on and around the marching path. However, Gomez said, organizers were treated calmly and politely by law enforcement. She said the peaceful nature of the demonstration comes in direct contrast with what rumors on social media were predicting.

In Anna, nearly 200 demonstrate against police brutality

Law enforcement officers keep an eye on protesters during a rally in Anna on Thursday in response to the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis last week.

“This protest was supposed to be violent, according to Facebook,” she said. She added that it was important for it to remain peaceful.

“We don’t want to be violent. We are not them,” she said of people standing in violent opposition to the Black Lives Matter movement.

Threats of violence left her and fellow organizers undeterred.

“We had shooting threats. We had bomb threats, we had people saying they were going to drive through us,” she said. “Nothing mattered because we are standing for what we believe in.”

isaac.smith@thesouthern.com

618-351-5823

On Twitter: @ismithreports

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