Protest expected to be peaceful

Jeff Guy
Erma Ratliff

Erma Ratliff said the racial equality protest, scheduled for Saturday, June 6 in Wellington, is an opportunity for peace and unity.

The event will begin at noon at Heritage Park at Seventh and Washington streets next to Memorial Auditorium. Ratliff, the organizer of the event, will say a few words and Pastor Zane Brooks of Freewill Baptist Church will deliver a prayer. The march will then commence down Eighth Street to the old Chisholm Trail Motel. It will end at around 1:15 or 1:30 p.m.

“People like to be responsible around pastors and be on their best behavior,” Ratliff said. “We are not here to riot and loot. We are here to be respectful and have unity.”

Wellington Police Chief Tracy Heath said, “I have no reason to think at this time that the event will be anything but peaceful.”

Both Ratliff and Heath are asking participants in the protest to walk on the sidewalks and not to block traffic. Masks are recommended, but not required and free masks will be available at the event. The temperature is supposed to be in the 90s and free bottles of water and sunscreen will be given at the event.

Ratliff said she has received messages from people on Facebook Messenger, telling her not to have the protest.

“I’ve been receiving hate messages on messenger,” she said. “People are being rude and saying we shouldn’t have the protest, which makes me want to do it more.”

To those who counter the slogan, “Black lives matter,” with “all lives matter,” Ratliff said, “All lives matter, but now is the time for Wellington to see there is still racism going on. I think we forget that, being a small town.”

Though she is black, Ratliff said she probably had some privilege in organizing the event because she is well known in the community back to when she was in sports as a kid. She is now a code official and election officer for the city.

She has been adamant about wanting to keep the event peaceful.

“Just a little reminder if you feel the need to be negative or feel like this isn’t for you, please stay home!,” Ratliff wrote on her Facebook wall. “We will NOT tolerate violence or any negative activity!! This protest is about equality for all!”

The Wellington protest is one of thousands that have taken place in the country, following the death of George Floyd in Minnesota, Minneapolis while in police custody. Officers held a handcuffed Floyd down to the ground while an officer, Derek Chauvin, knelt on Floyd’s knee for eight minutes, 46 seconds. Floyd’s final words were, “I can’t breathe.”

All the officers have been fired. Chauvin was arrested and charged with third degree murder and manslaughter. Following protests, the other three officers involved have since been arrested.

Ratliff said maybe a couple of the officers will be convicted and get punished for Floyd’s death. “The other ones will probably get a slap on the wrist.”

Heath said in an email, “I'm saddened by the events surrounding Mr. Floyd's death and I sincerely express/send my heartfelt condolences to his family.”

Ratliff said, “I support police officers. I just know there’s some bad apples in the bag, but I haven’t personally had a bad experience with any police here in Wellington.”

Regarding the people’s right to protest and the police department’s role, Heath said, “That is simply our protect ‘people's’ constitutional rights.”