When lifelong Kenosha resident Isaac Wallner decided to organize a peaceful protest, he wasn’t certain how much interest there would be.
As it turns out, there was plenty.
A crowd that approached about 200 people strong arrived with a message of peace Saturday afternoon in Civic Center Park in another protest to the death of George Floyd in police custody May 25 in Minneapolis.
“I wanted to be a part of a change and not just sit there and say I wish things were different,” Wallner said before the event began. “I wanted to actually get out there, make a difference and set something up where people would have a voice.
“... We’re all fed up, and we all want to voice that. We need to gather together and unify for a common change. It’s powerful (to know) that we can congregate peacefully.”
Kenosha resident Mary Kueppers was among those in the crowd who threw her full support behind the cause.
“It’s been going on for way too long, too many decades, too many injustices,” she said. “It just needs to change, and I really hope this movement the last couple weeks pushes it in the right direction.”
Time to set aside violence
Wallner, 30, added that without a peaceful demonstration, nothing else would matter.
The time has come to set aside violence and figure out a way to move forward for all races, he said.
“The common person who is out here protesting isn’t out there rioting,” he said. “Those people are out there for themselves. We’re not out there for ourselves. We’re out for a common cause that’s bigger than ourselves.
“(Staying peaceful) is paramount. I can’t even put into words how important it is. Without that, our message gets lost. Without the peaceful message, there is no message.”
And Wallner’s hope turned out to be fact, as the event went off without a hitch under the sunny skies Saturday without any visible police presence.
As the week went along, he said he was proud of his community for putting out its message mostly without too many major incidents.
“It has gotten a lot better,” he said. “There is no excuse for the violence because you’re hurting your own community. That doesn’t help you. I know some of the businesses here (were damaged), and they were minority business owners, so you’re attacking the people you’re trying to help. It doesn’t make sense. It doesn’t add up.”
Met with local officials
Prior to Saturday’s event, Wallner said he had the chance to meet with local officials and exchange a positive dialogue for the future.
There’s no doubt there’s still work to be done, but he feels confident positive steps are in place to eventually get there.
“(The movement) is getting traction around the world,” Wallner said. “Other countries are standing with us, so this time around, we’re noticed. It’s big, it’s huge. You have people from all different races and all different countries saying, ‘We’re fed up. We’re done. This is enough.’
“We have a long way to go. That goes for us, all the way up to the politicians. There’s a lot of change that needs to happen for us to get there. ... I encourage people to talk to people, to talk to the police. They’re here to help. Every profession has bad apples, of course, but the majority of them, they’re not here to cause a problem.”
‘All lives matter’
At the start of the event, Wallner, who is African-American, touched on the “black lives matter” mantra that has been used throughout the nation since Floyd’s death.
Using that phrase doesn’t in any way diminish everyone else, he said.
“To say ‘Black Lives Matter’ is not to say all lives don’t matter,” Wallner said. “... To say ‘Black Lives Matter’ means we need to start to matter. All lives matter. The term ‘all’ is a term of full inclusion, and if black lives don’t matter, all lives simply cannot matter.”
Wallner also shared with the crowd his hope for the future.
“We have a race problem, but we also have a hate problem,” he said. “The hate needs to stop, period.”
Four local pastors followed Wallner to the microphone: Jonathan Barker of Grace Lutheran Church in Kenosha; Kara Baylor, who has served in the Racine/Kenosha area the past 20 years; Kevin Beebe of Spirit Alive Church in Kenosha; and his wife, Kelsey, who serves in both Racine and Kenosha.
The time has come, Barker said, to put more resources toward helping everyone and less into police department budgets — a statement that drew a healthy round of applause.
“I want us to imagine a world where, rather than upping police budgets year after year after year, we start upping the budgets for education and health, for housing and for healing,” he said.
Barker called on the crowd to imagine a world when all races can not only come together, but be treated as equals.
And he closed his remarks with a challenge locally.
“We have a task here in Kenosha,” he said. “We know we have everybody’s attention. We have the mayor’s attention. We have the attention of the police chief. We have the attention of our fellow citizens. We have to devote ourselves now to the hard work to imagining the world we want for Kenosha, imagining the changes we want to see.
“We need the power of imagination to give us the power to march, to advocate, to hold signs, not just this weekend, not just in the aftermath of George Floyd’s killing. We need the imagination and the power to keep going forward and to make sure this world, where black, brown indigenous people are no longer killed by the police, are no longer harassed by the police and budgets get used to lift up our communities rather than oppress our communities.”
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