OTTUMWA — Dasherall Jones said she understands people asking why she and others are protesting right now. But she doesn’t think that’s the right question.
“Why are people dying at the hands of law enforcement?” she asked. “That’s a question I don’t feel like is being asked.”
A crowd of more than 100 people gathered Friday in Central Park in Ottumwa. It was the second consecutive Friday that saw a protest in Ottumwa sparked by the death of George Floyd during an arrest by police in Minnesota. The officers involved face criminal charges. The officer who kept his knee on Floyd’s neck and head is charged with murder.
While Floyd’s death was the spark, there were also reminders of the deaths of others. Figures stood around the park with names and accounts of how the people died. Freddie Gray. Ahmaud Arbery.
Protests have taken place for more than a week across the country. Some have been accompanied by riots, but organizers gave those in attendance Friday strict instructions. Arnell Powell paced in front of the row of people along Fourth Street, bullhorn in hand.
“This remains peaceful, no matter what!” he said as the protest began.
Chants filled the air and more people spoke using Powell’s bullhorn as people drove by heading home after work. Some honked. Some yelled support. Others kept their eyes straight ahead, not acknowledging the protest.
It was hot, about 90 degrees. Volunteers handed out water. Others handed out masks. People are protesting, but they’re also trying to avoid a pandemic.
Earlier, Powell said too many people equate protesting with looting. They’re not the same. It was up to the Ottumwa protest to demonstrate the difference.
Powell grew up in Chicago, but has lived in Ottumwa for years. Racism, he said, takes a toll. When people hear the same thing said, they don’t always hear it the same way. He asked people to listen. You may not be able to understand in the same way, he said, but you can empathize.
“When someone hears a racist term, they’re upset,” Powell explained. “When I hear it, it takes me back to all the other times.”
Jones understood. She wanted people to remember that black does not mean criminal, nor does white mean racist.
“What they need to be asking is ‘How can I help?’ What they need to know is that you can’t label an entire race,” she said. “Everyone is an individual.”