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Opinion

Respect for community, message at core of Newnan protests


  • By Clay Neely
  • |
  • Jun. 02, 2020 - 4:16 PM

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Across our nation, citizens are watching an unparalleled time in our country’s history as multiple metropolitan cities across America burn in the wake of the death of George Floyd last week.

The majority of these riots ultimately began as protests, designed to highlight an ongoing dissatisfaction with police and the justice system in America that has reached a fever pitch this year – fueled by the deaths of Floyd while in police custody, and Ahmaud Arbery by the hands of vigilantes.

COVID-19’s dominance of the news cycle was unceremoniously dumped into the background last week while millions watch in horror as looters and anarchists usurped the intentions of nonviolent protestors and turned our cities into war zones.

In smaller towns such as ours, the media often “localizes” events like these to begin a conversation about how we feel in our community. The Newnan Times-Herald has been doing this for years.

When a Facebook post about a planned protest downtown began circulating on Saturday, it didn’t take long to see the ramifications. Police confirmed they would be utilizing additional personnel to ensure the peace was kept and property was protected.

That afternoon, a group assembled on North Court Square to speak their mind about how these recent events have shaped their opinions and pleaded for action. Over the course of several hours, a number of people spoke, shouted and prayed for understanding, justice and peace.

Many expressed their dissatisfaction with the justice system and law enforcement. Coweta County is not exempt. Protesters cited the case of Nicholas Sherod Bolton, who was shot in the face by a Coweta County deputy in June of 2019 after ramming his car into a police cruiser. Bolton survived, but lost his vision in that eye.

The Newnan protests culminated with many participants shaking the hands of the local officers who remained in the background during the event.

As of Monday morning, not a single window was broken. No stores were looted. The only fire lit was the spark of civic engagement fueled by the minds and souls of those in attendance who equate apathy with consent and can no longer wait for a system to fix itself.

Newnan was spared many of these violent outbursts partly due to the groundwork laid back in 2018 when a white supremacist group and Antifa descended upon our town to square off only weeks after the Charlottesville tragedy.

We looked deep into ourselves to define who we are and what we would not allow.

Instead of becoming a playground for anarchists, our town persevered through a potential powder keg of destruction.

Groups, including the Pastors and Leaders Luncheon, were created to highlight diversity and connections between demographics that might not otherwise have a reason to connect. These groups continue to thrive in the years following the 2018 protest.

It’s our dedication to understanding ourselves and staying proactive that allows us to have difficult conversations like we have had on the court square over the last several days.

Justice, not violence, is what everyone wants.

Look below the surface of those protesting in Newnan, and you’ll find a foundation of respect – not only for our town, but most importantly, for the message.

We hope these local actions spur positive, proactive change, and once again, we’re proud of how our town is handling these issues in a nation seemingly falling apart at the seams.