Protest Rally

Cooper Blackwell speaks Sunday during a Black Lives Matter rally at the Confederate Monument.

Leaders of a protest in front of the Confederate monument this weekend stated an extensive list of demands, with a focus on business and commerce and social issues locally and regionally.

Although the main purpose of the protest, which was held on Sunday, was to express outrage at the recent death of George Floyd after being subdued by police in Minneapolis, the latter part of the gathering included remarks about matters in the Twin Counties and the surrounding area.

One of the speakers, Malik Darden, particularly drew applause and cheers from among attendees when he said, “The Confederate monument, especially in Rocky Mount, must come down.”

Moments earlier, Darden began listing what he and his fellow protest organizers want from the city.

“We demand acknowledgement and reparations for the genocide and displacement of indigenous people and the enslavement, societal, political and economic disenfranchisement of black people,” Darden said.

Darden also said, “We demand acknowledgement and reparations to black neighborhoods experiencing social immobility and economic drought because of the historic and current disinvestment in black neighborhoods.

“We demand that we are provided with more minority business development opportunities, with less stringent requirements that make it easier for the common person to access information, bidding processes and property procurement,” Darden said.

The gathering lasted for more than an hour, with Cooper Blackwell, who is an activist and son of Councilman Reuben Blackwell, being the key leader and at times leading chants of “Black Power” and “Black Lives Matter.”

Prior to Darden speaking, Cooper Blackwell stated a demand to businesses locally: “We need to see George Floyd in your window.”

“You need to show that you care about us,” Blackwell said. “Don’t just tell us with coupons. We need to hear it.”

Blackwell, with a bit of humor, said, “We’ll take the discount, too.”

“But you need to be here and show me what I’m really worth,” Blackwell said.

Blackwell also called for more business and commercial development in African-American neighborhoods across Rocky Mount, for support from local boards of education members and for support from neighbors in moving forward for equitable development in the city.

Blackwell continued to comment about what he sees as pocketbook issues locally, saying, “We’ve got to hit ’em where they hurt. We’ve got to go after the money.

“We have to divest,” Blackwell said. “Stop shopping at businesses that don’t care about you.”

During the gathering on Sunday, Blackwell also told attendees, “It’s time to change the narrative, y’all.”

Blackwell said, “We’ve got 40 black businesses downtown. Go frequent them, because whose lives matter?”

“Black lives matter,” attendees said in response.

Blackwell also briefly focused on certain press coverage, saying, “We are reclaiming the stories written for us, Wilson Times, and rewriting our own Rocky Mount Telegram, in order to heal and move forward from a past that was stolen from us.”

Some attendees could be heard saying, “Amen.”

Lindell John Kay, a former Telegram reporter who writes for the Spring Hope Enterprise, a sister newspaper of The Wilson Times, was watching the gathering.

Kay, from the crowd, told Blackwell, “I’m here, brother.”

Blackwell, in his remarks on Sunday, told attendees, “This call to action is an invitation to black people and our allies to heal and organize, because whose lives matter?”

“Black lives matter,” attendees replied.

Blackwell also stated a further list of demands.

Blackwell said they include that in instances of physical conflict involving officers resulting in the death of an unarmed man or an unarmed woman, those officers be immediately investigated, fired and charged; and retraining all law enforcement, including in the city, Nash County, Edgecombe County, Tarboro, Wilson and Greenville, with a curriculum that reflects “the realities of implicit racial bias and its impact on law officers’ overall conduct.”