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Marching Forward

Citizens of Minden gathered in front of Woo’s barber shop on Sunday in order to take part in a march to raise awareness for the racial injustices that the black citizens of Minden have experienced. A rally took place at the march’s end in front of the Civic Center where leader’s of the black community voiced their concerns of the racial injustices that take place here.

“This is a collection of a movement of 27 different organizations who have come together to say to the people of Webster Parish that we look forward to a new day. All that is necessary for evil to triumph is for good people to do nothing. We want to do something today about what’s wrong with what has gone on. This is a fresh start for us,” said Reverend Dr. Robby D. Williams, MC for the event.

He soon passed the mic over to Johntoria Stewart who took the time to express what it’s like being a young black mother in Minden. “As a young person, here in Minden Louisiana, raising a two year old son. I have to tell my son that in the friendliest city in the south, I have to let him know, my son, you can’t go out there to Sonic. You can’t hang with them, they ain’t going to treat you the same,” said Stewart.

“My son, you can’t be up there at the parks on Sunday, they ain’t going to look at you the same. My son, I need you coming home at night and on time. I don’t want to have to watch no paper, I don’t want to look at my phone, I don’t want to have to hear a siren. Sixteen years from now I don’t want to be any of these mothers. I don’t want to be any of them and it’s going to end today. Whether or not y’all hear us for real, we’re here. Every single person, we are here. Whether or not you see us. We are here.”

Soon after Stewart’s mother and one of the event organizers Nicole Stewart came forward and shared her experience of police mistreatment that she says took place here in Minden less than a month ago. She describes a situation that took place at the Family Dollar on Homer Road where she was harassed by a cashier for buying too much toilet paper and had the police called on her.

“So you can understand my dismay, as I just went to a store here in Minden, on April 23, 2020, to buy some toilet paper. I walked in trying to get in and out, because I have a son, Nicolas Stewart, who is medically fragile. He can’t handle a respiratory infection.

So I can’t leave the house like everyone else can leave the house, but I left the house on April 23, 2020 thinking I’m going to pop in and pop out and get back to my baby,” said Stewart. Buying for herself and her family, she said she got four packs of toilet paper after checking for signs that suggested a limit, looking for a sales associate to ask, and then finding none. 

She then states that the cashier told her that she couldn’t buy that much, and after a few more exchanges, told her that she just wanted to buy one.

“As I did it I said, ‘Mam I understand,’ but I said it softly, but very matter of factly, ‘but what you’re not going to do, is talk to me any kind of way.’” I didn’t holler. I didn’t yell. I said it just like that.

I picked the tissue up, put it on the counter top, then she tells me to my face, ‘Then you won’t be buying anything today, I refuse to serve you,’” said Stewart.

Stewart said that the cashier then told her to put the paper back on the shelves, and as Stewart did so, was continuously told her to get out of the store.

“By the time I turned the ignition on and put my car in gear, I was surrounded by police. Not one police, not two police. Three, four, five, six, police cars surrounding me. I still to this day, do not understand why nor have I gotten any answers,” said Stewart.

She stated that while some of her altercations with the police officers were professional, a white officer in particular was not.

“Before he gave me back my driver’s license he took a picture of it. And I don’t know why he would take a picture. And then he banned me from that store for life. Told me if he ever came back, he was going to put me in jail. When I explained to him what happened, he turned around and started threatening me. He told me he didn’t have to answer not one of my questions, and if I asked him anything, he was going to put me in jail. So he was a bully, he tried to bully me,” said Stewart.

“He told me, and I quote, ‘You got an attitude here with me, I can imagine the attitude you had in the store with that woman.’ I said, ‘I did not have an attitude sir, I said I’m confused, and I’m very passionate when I believe in something, so I’m questioning you because I don’t understand. I was only trying to put my car, and I was about to…’ And he interrupted me and said, ‘You’re not about to do anything if you don’t leave right now. I’m going to put handcuffs on you right now and Imma put you in jail.’”

After the altercation, Stewart wanted some answers. “My question is where was the protect and serve. If you knew I wasn’t doing anything wrong, why didn’t anybody pull that police officer to the side and hey man, you’re going too far,” said Stewart.

“Because when I talked to other police officers, they told me that they went too far. But I still have not had this question answered. Why did he take a picture of my driver’s license? Who was this man that came to me?”

After reaching out to Terika Williams-Walker of Dist. B, given that her district, Dist. A. is currently without a sitting Councilman, Stewart was directed to go and speak with the Mayor about the incident. 

“I tried to come up here, and they told me he wasn’t here, but then he came out, and he was standing right three, right there in that window, right behind the fountain, on his phone,” said Stewart.

“I tried to reach out to the police chief. He would not see me. I wrote a four page complaint, got a copy of it. They told me he’d get off at three o’clock. I said okay I’ll call at 2:30. My call was forwarded to his voicemail, I left that voicemail. It’s what, June 14th. April 23rd to June 14th, somebody shoulda called me back by now.”

Near the end of her speech, Stewart also revealed that during her calls to district management, she discovered that the limit to how much toilet paper she could buy was four, which would make the entire altercation over nothing.

“But the hard part about it is, when I talked to other managers at other stores, they told me that the limit was four, so she never should have did it. And nobody has reached out since I talked to district management. So that’s what I’m here to tell you. We got to stand together, we have no other choice. But in my faith, Imma let you know, I always let God be God, and it has already been done,” said Stewart.

Sam Mims, former Minden Juvenile Officer took to the mic to offer his unique perspective of being on the force in Minden.

“I grew up in this town. When I grew up here in this town, this joker was racist and divided then, and it’s racist and divided now,” said Mims.

“I came back here, because the lord told me to come. And there are some days where I have a talk with him and say why did you send me back to this tiny little town,

and it’s like Mordecai told Esther, you have been sent to the kingdom for such a time as this. It is time for things to change, and it is time for us to act like it.”

He also brought special attention to Darnella Frazier, the 17 year old girl who filmed George Floyd’s death.

“I not only want you to remember George Floyd’s name. I also want you to remember Darnella Fraiser. Because if it wasn’t for her, we wouldn’t be here. We wouldn’t have seen the video,” said Mims.

Rev. B. J. Martin, spokesperson for the event, was next to speak, and while acknowledging the injustices that many others have faced in this nation, he brought the attention back to the injustices that they themselves face hear in Minden.

“We come today not simply because of George Floyd, Ahmed Aubrey, and so many others who have suffered great injustice in this nation. We come today not simply because of other egregious wrongs that blacks and other minorities have suffered in this nation. But we also come because of the racism and prejudice in this city. While Midnen has claimed time to be the friendliest city in the south, the reality is quite different. Behind many of the smiles, lie an evil heart,” said Martin.

“I have been told by many others of many positions and other professionals, who have been recruited to come to Minden, who observe very quickly that Minden is very racist.”

“I personally had the experience of a new pastor coming to town for one of the white churches. He came by to talk to me, we talked a while, and then he said to me, this town is the most racist town I’ve ever lived in, and he hadn’t been here but a couple of weeks. You may live here and not see it, but those who come in from the outside see it, and they see it very quickly.”

He then pivoted to say that in order for people to change the way that things are, the most important thing they can do is practice their right to vote.

“If you’re sick and tired of being overlooked, disrespected, mistreated, and abused. If you’re sick and tired of being sick and tired, then you need to do two things. Number one, you need to register to vote, then number two, you need to vote,” said Martin.

“We cannot guarantee that the person we support will get elected. But if we stick together, we can guarantee that the one we oppose will be defeated. We can’t guarantee the election, but if they dont stand with us, we can guarantee their defeat if we get together, register and vote. And until we do that, we will remain, disrespected. When they disrespect our representatives, they disrespect us. When they abuse our representatives, they abuse us. We have to stand and say, it’s time for it to stop.”

Martin also took some time to fundraise for their movement to retain a lawyer. “When you are organizing a movement, you need to have some legal advice. You need somebody who can tell you what the right way is, what the most efficient way is, and also who can tell you when those you are fighting against are violating the law, and you can stop them with the courts. Therefore we need to set up a defense fund so that we can retain a lawyer. Who can help us with legal advice, so that the next moves we make will be the right moves, and the most efficient moves, and the moves that move us in the direction that we’re trying to go.”

For those wishing to contribute, they can contact Ben Martin at benjoemartin@gmail.com.

Councilman Terika Williams-Walker of Dist. B was the last person to speak, stating that the changes that needed to take place in order for Minden to move forward needed to take place right there at City Hall. 

“We came to City Hall today because it’s happening right here. This is where they are making the decision, to disenfranchise your vote. Because by us not attending a Council meeting, that’s a disenfranchisement of your vote. Because we need someone that the people want to represent Dist. A. Dist. A didn’t elect me, so I’m not the one that’s supposed to cast the vote for them, and it’s sure isn’t your Mayor,” said Walker.

“The problem is right here so we came right here. So when we have Council meetings, show up right here. Because when they don’t see you they feel like you don’t support us. Although we are your voice, they need to see your face. They need to know that we are united, we stand together.”