Voices from Monday Night’s Protest in Columbia: ‘We Just Want the Pursuit of Happiness’ | KBIA

Voices from Monday Night’s Protest in Columbia: ‘We Just Want the Pursuit of Happiness’

Jun 2, 2020

Protestors walked the streets of Columbia Monday night, as part of the ongoing nationwide response to the killing of George Floyd while in custody of the Minneapolis police.

The protests started off on a relatively quiet note with several dozen protestors blocking the intersection of Broadway and Providence near downtown with their vehicles. 

But the largely peaceful protest was disrupted twice when separate vehicles appeared to intentionally strike demonstrators. One woman was taken to a nearby hospital. She has not been identified and her condition is not known.

But despite the incidents, protestors, like organizer Jacquelyn Watts, said they refuse to allow anything to detract from their message.

Jacquelyn Watts
Credit Rebecca Smith / KBIA

“We're not gonna be bullied,” Watts said. “You're not gonna bully us to make us leave, and people like that - that's the reason why we're here. Privileged, white people that feel like they could treat people any kind of way they want to and get away with it.”

Watts was joined by her fellow organizer, Madison Theroff, who said her son was her motivation.

“My son’s life matters,” Theroff said. "My son, he’s black. He’s seven-months old, and I don’t know what world my son is gonna live in, and that hurts.” 

The organizers encouraged the demonstrators to remain nonviolent as the crowd continued to grow. Hundreds were gathered at the peak of the night. The protesters walked up and down Broadway, Walnut, and 6th Street, and took several pauses at places like the police station and the County Courthouse. 

Mary Ratliff, the president of the Columbia chapter of the NAACP, was present for part of the night. She said she’s excited to see the kind of passion the young demonstrators have to offer.

“I'm glad to see the young people out. I want to see them more organized. I want them to be able to give a message of why they're here, why they're marching, and to be able to work toward getting that resolution,” Ratliff said. 

Ratliff added that without clear leadership and a community-oriented mindset, it would be difficult for protests, and the movement itself, to succeed in its mission.

Robin Winn
Credit Rebecca Smith / KBIA

Robin Winn, a lawyer in Columbia and a member of the executive board of the local chapter of the NAACP was also present. She said it was encouraging to see the level of community support for things like “Black Lives Matter.” 

“Twenty years ago, we didn't have this type of awareness. We didn't have this many people onboard,” Winn said. “Five years ago, everybody thought Black Lives Matter was a terrorist group.” 

She said demonstrating is about making sure that all black people can live a life free of fear. 

“We're coming in love and we're just here trying to get our God-given rights. We just want the pursuit of happiness. We want to be free. We want to see our children and our black men, our black husbands, our black uncles be able to run down the street or be able to sit in their living room or sell a CD and not be gunned down like animals in the street.” 

Roy Lovelady was among the protesters, and said that action has to continue - beyond just protests and demonstrations. 

“I feel like people need to get out and vote. I think that we need to see ourselves in positions of power,” Lovelady said. “Yes, we have some of us on the police force, but when I say us, I mean African Americans or black, but we’re not represented in those positions of power. How many black officials are in the White House? Or in Jefferson City? Or even Columbia, Missouri?” 

Roy Lovelady
Credit Rebecca Smith / KBIA

Back with organizer  Jacquelyn Watts, she said she’s fighting for the future of herself and her children. 

“We shouldn't have to have our kids out here with us fighting for their lives, and it's sad. It shouldn't be like that,” Watts said. “We should have the same opportunities, period. This country has been built off of black people, by black people.”

And she added that, right now, she believes it’s important for all people to come together. 

“And It's not a race thing. It’s everybody against racist people that happen to be predominantly white, and we're not going for it. We're not gonna be bullied to move, and you're not going to beat us up. We're not going to start anything, but we're gonna finish whatever you start.”