SIDNEY — Protesters gathered across the country over the weekend in response to the wrongful death of George Floyd while in police custody in Minneapolis, Minnesota — and Sidney was no different.
“I’m tired of it happening in America. We shouldn’t be living with this, and I was compelled to act,” Wesley Stockton said. “Don’t complain until you’ve done something, to try and be a solution. If you can’t, then you can vent, but don’t start the venting process from the luxury of your couch if you’re not willing to at least try.”
The protests across the country began after video surfaced of Minneapolis Police Officer Derek Chauvin kneeling on Floyd’s neck for over 8 minutes while Floyd was restrained by handcuffs. Officers had arrested Floyd after a deli employee called 911 and accused Floyd of buying cigarettes with a counterfeit $20. Chauvin was arrested on charges of murder and manslaughter in the death of Floyd on May 29, four days after Floyd’s death.
Stockton, who organized the weekend protests, returned to courtsquare Monday to continue to spread messages of fighting against inequality and standing united as a community against inequality. Seeing violence erupt across the country at protests in larger cities compelled Stockton to get ahead of things before it reached the community in Sidney and Shelby County.
“I said, let me see if I can bring people together for a united Sidney, Shelby County. We can do it peacefully, and we can all come together and stand as one,” Stockton said. “We’re about love, support and unity. Come support your community.”
Stockton says the response from the community has been overwhelmingly positive, with people stopping by to bring protesters water and Gatorade, and one person even bringing them pizza. There was also police presence at the protests over the weekend — something Stockton wanted to see.
“I appreciate the Sidney Police Department coming out here and standing with us, and showing a unified Sidney, Ohio,” Stockton said. “And I’m so proud of the way the community has stood up for each other.”
Even so, there are still some who questioned on social media why there were protests in Sidney, when Floyd’s death happened in Minneapolis.
“It shouldn’t be happening in our America,” Stockton said. “That’s what we should be upset about. This country was founded on a riot — the Boston Tea Party was just a riot, you know, people had had enough. Is this our Boston Tea Party? I don’t know. But something needs to be done.”
It’s also personal for Stockton, who is black with a family of his own.
“I’m a black man in America. I hope it doesn’t divide people, me saying that, but I’m also a husband and a father, so if I could just move the needle a fraction of an inch for my children and grandchildren, then I’ll be happy,” Stockton said.
Also at the protest held Monday was Sidney resident Dan Werts. As a veteran, Werts has attended protests and marches for several causes, and wanted to come out to courtsquare in support of the protests against police brutality.
“I fought for greater ideals, and it’s an absolute shame seeing police brutality. I want better. The fight for equality is the fight I swore upon when I enlisted. It is my duty, even when I’m no longer in the military, to actively take a stand for those who are oppressed.”
Taking a stand for those oppressed is a major reason why the fight against police brutality is important to Werts. In his own words, he’s taking a stand for the people who need a voice, no matter where the injustice is happening.
“Just because it doesn’t happen here [in Shelby County] doesn’t mean we shouldn’t stand for something higher,” Werts said. “It takes an active, aware and informed public to ensure that never happens, because it could happen here, at any time.”
Protests on courtsquare will be held Tuesday and Thursday beginning at 10 a.m. and Wednesday and Friday beginning at 11 a.m., and Stockton encourages the public as well as city officials to attend and stand united.
“We’d love to have them out here, and show Sidney is united,” Stockton said.
Sidney Chief of Police William Balling said that after being in Columbus all weekend, he was grateful to see the protests in Sidney remain peaceful.
“We’ve had several officers go down [to the protests] on their own, and we’ve been very blessed to have peaceful protests. We’ll continue, on the police side of things, going out, standing together and communicating. It’s really about moving forward,” Balling said.
“Throughout history peaceful protests, such as those led by Rosa Parks and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., have paved the way to meaningful systemic societal change. When protests turn violent and people and property are threatened, the original message becomes distorted and lost amid the chaos. Those who have gathered on the Court Square for the past three days have done so peaceably. I trust that their message remains strong and that their voices are heard,” Sidney Mayor Mike Barhorst said.