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Saturday, January 23, 2021

The birth of a protest

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A group of roughly 10 people, led by Black Panther organizers, crisscrossed the city May 29 looking for a good place to shut it down.

They had a location in mind, but Kwame Shakur, deputy chairman of the New African Black Panther Party, feared police got ahead of him when someone who claimed to be part of the media approached him with a phone asking questions about what he was about to do.

He bailed and lost whoever that was.

Plan B: Shut down an intersection on the north side. It was one lane in each direction; wouldn’t require many people.

Cars met in a parking lot nearby. It had to be secret until it was time to execute.

But then Shakur heard about the crowd that had gathered downtown, and the group agreed they could go in and channel that energy. It was 7 p.m. by now.

Plan C: Take over the crowd downtown.

A motorcade took I-465 to I-70 to make it downtown. Family of McHale Rose — the 19-year-old killed by police in the early morning hours of May 7 — was part of the group and passed out goggles before everyone left.

There wasn’t a clear way into the downtown protest, though. They thought it looked too blocked off. It was time once again to think of something else.

Plan D: Shut down 38th Street.

They met at the combo McDonald’s and BP gas station at 38th and Salem streets and started canvassing the area to find anyone willing to join. They needed numbers.

The first person to join the group was Timothy Parker Bay, who was on the gas station side of the parking lot.

It sounded like this was the moment 52-year-old Bay — a muscular, excitable man with red and black gloves — had been waiting for his whole life.

“I’ve been excited,” he later said as he walked behind the group on Graceland Avenue. “I’ve been running from my destiny my whole life. God wants me to do something. My prayer’s been answered.”

The first house the group hit on Salem was a success. Andy and Jacinta Hodges were relaxing on the porch with friends and family when they decided to drop what they were doing and walk to get more people.

Andy and Jacinta are married and have a son in the military. They apologized to the Rose family for their loss.

“It could be our son,” Jacinta said as she held her husband’s hand. “I feel for them. I couldn’t imagine what they’re going through.”

Rose died just hours after 21-year-old Dreasjon Reed was killed by police following a chase. Police said Rose made a false 911 call to lure police to an apartment complex on the city’s north side and ambush them.

Police said they returned fire in both incidents.

But the Rose family say police are hiding what really happened, and they’re still searching for answers.

One of the common pleas with neighbors throughout the night was that it could be one of their loved ones next, and that they can’t wait until then to stand together.

It worked for some. Others got excited about the prospect of getting involved but said they might join later.

Patrick Saling, a white 21-year-old student at Indiana University in Bloomington, was with the group from the beginning.

He got four children on the sidewalk to chant “Boots on the ground!” as the group, now with about 20 people, made its way south on Capitol Avenue.

Myron Rose and Tomorrow Rose, McHale Rose’s father and stepmother, walked with Tomi Rose, his aunt, and Darius McGaughey, his brother. They held signs and wore shirts with Rose’s face on them and asked people to join their cause.

“We’ve always said, ‘yours, mine, ours,’” Tomorrow said.

There were about 25 people by the time the group approached 38th and Meridian streets.

Willy Booze, a 71-year-old pastor in a Colts jersey, followed closely behind in his GMC Denali with his hazards on. He prayed with them earlier on a side street, thanking God for leading this group to him.

It was time.

“We’re taking 38th and Meridian here,” Shakur told the people. “We’re gonna hold this for a minute.”

They blocked traffic going south on Meridian and west on 38th before marching east and taking up all of the lanes.

Jacinta elected to stay behind. She has asthma, her husband explained, and had already walked a long way in sandals.

Two police cars blocked the road at Washington Boulevard and 38th, and the group cheered as people honked and waved.

Keanesha Stone, 33, was taking her 11-year-old son and some of his cousins to the canal for ice cream when she saw what was happening. She parked her car at 39th Street and Washington Boulevard to join the march.

Her son and nieces and nephews were only a few of the children who became part of the protest.

Jayla Keys, 23, was with her 5-year-old daughter when people came up to her house and asked her to join.

“It’s a hot day,” she said. “Everybody’s been out.”

There were about 60 people marching when the group turned at Guilford Avenue to go back.

Saling had posted up at the back of the crowd, walking backward with a fist in the air, hardly ever more than 15 feet away from the police cars that crept along behind the marchers.

It’s important to put white bodies between the police and “our Black and brown brothers and sisters,” Saling explained as he continued walking backward.

“If they want to hurt them, they have to hurt the white folks that they’re not used to going through,” he said.

One man, Massiah Harley, 38, joined early in the march on a rickety bike and spent the whole time looping around from front to back.

“Injustice is injustice,” he said, “no matter what color or what creed. We gotta stand up against this stuff.”

Anthony Smith, 47, said he lives on Pennsylvania Avenue and could hear what was going on outside. He decided to get involved, too.

“I was coming this way to check on my grandma anyway,” he said.

Shakur stopped the crowd at Illinois and 38th streets and put the Rose family front and center while traffic was mostly blocked from going in any direction.

He held up his phone for a livestream as the Rose family talked.

“He was 19,” Myron, the father, said. “He had a whole life ahead of him. … I have no more strength, but I’ll tell you what, I’ll keep fighting for my son.”

The group held that intersection for almost a half hour. Some cars managed to turn right from Illinois Street onto 38th Street, and others were directed to make a U-turn if they really wanted to get out of there, though it was basically a guarantee they would get berated in the process.

The crowd began to disperse around 11:40 p.m., and a smaller group moved south of the intersection to block just some of Illinois Street for their send-off.

They put on their “uniform” — a raised fist — and promised they would give a final rallying cry before going to bed that night.

“I —” they shouted, “am a revolutionary!”

Contact staff writer Tyler Fenwick at 317-762-7853. Follow him on Twitter @Ty_Fenwick.

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