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Waynesville protest march concludes peacefully

A group of almost 100 demonstrators hoping to draw attention to racial injustice marched through Waynesville on the night of June 1, but unlike protests in other parts of the country and the state, this one ended peacefully, with no arrests or injuries to marchers, onlookers or first responders. 

“It went very smoothly,” said David Adams, Waynesville’s chief of police. 

The march began at Walmart in West Waynesville around 8:40 p.m., after Waynesville Police Department lieutenants Brandon Gilmore and Tyler Trantham helped marchers determine a route to the Historic Haywood County Courthouse and gave them an escort. 

“Here’s what we’re going to do,” Trantham told them. “We’ll put a car in front of you and a car behind, so you can do what you want to do.” 

 

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Waynesville police officers Brandon Gilmore (left) and Tyler Trantham speak with protestors prior to their June 1 demonstration. Cory Vaillancourt photo

 

Protest organizer and Waynesville resident Zach Bach, 20, told Trantham he’d make an announcement calling for a peaceful march, and told The Smoky Mountain News that emulating the mayhem in other cities like Asheville wasn’t his goal. 

“I’m trying to prove that not only can you get your point across by being violent, but you can also do that by being peaceful,” Bach said. 

The point Nbach and fellow organizer Dylan Davis, also of Haywood County, were trying to make is that systemic, institutional racism has no place in the county, or the country. 

“It has to end,” said Bach. “It’s just as bad as in Martin Luther King’s day. It got better — it did. But then somehow it’s gone back downhill again.”

Nbach was referring to far more than the recent murder of Minneapolis resident George Floyd, who was killed by Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin while handcuffed, face down in the street with two other officers sitting on his legs and back. 

Around dusk, the column of protestors made its way though Hazelwood, past the sheriff’s office and Waynesville Middle School, chanting “No justice, no peace!” and “I can’t breathe!”

 

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Protestors march on Waynesville’s South Main Street behind a Waynesville police vehicle. Cory Vaillancourt photo

 

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Those who showed up to the protest, including Waynesville resident Cameron Eastman, 18, said they were there for good reason. 

“His name was Jaquyn Light,” Eastman said. “Back home in Burlington, Alamance County, he got shot by [Graham, North Carolina] police. That’s why me and my brother came out here. And I had two people killed by police last year.”

Haywood resident Meli Lambert, 17, learned about the event on Facebook and voiced similar concerns. 

“We want justice for George [Floyd] and for this not to happen to anybody else,” Lambert said. “Just because you have a badge on does not mean you’re above anybody else.”

Addison Fox of Black Mountain and Claire Ayala of Asheville learned about the Waynesville protest on Snapchat and said they were there to promote racial justice. 

“People can literally be in their own homes and not feel safe, and I think that is just absolutely ridiculous, especially in 2020 as we’ve been fighting the war on racism for so long,” Ayala said. “I definitely support the Black Lives Matter movement, and we just want to do our part because white silence is violence.”

Marchers engaged in one verbal altercation with a homeowner along the way, but other than that, their trip to the courthouse was uneventful. After marching down South Main Street under heavy police presence, protestors chanted and took a knee on the courthouse steps, and began to disperse peacefully around 10 p.m.

Eastman said he felt like the demonstrators had been heard. 

“The color of somebody’s skin shouldn’t affect how you look at them,” Eastman said. “It should be the inside, know what I mean?”

 

 

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