Following the tragic death of George Floyd in Minneapolis last week, a peaceful protest was held on Sunday afternoon, May 31st. The plans for the protest were shared through social media but despite many rumors that began to circulate, the protest remained peaceful.
Prior to 5 p.m. Sunday afternoon, Russellville residents began to gather downtown in front of the Pope County Courthouse, along Arkansas Avenue and west on Main Street to stand with their neighbors in support of one another, regardless of their race, religion, and ethnicity. Members of the community took their stand in solidarity for others in the community to let them know that they are supported.
Many who participated in the protest made signs and wore shirts supporting their beliefs as they joined together.
The organizers of the event, Hailey Vongpakdy-Shirley, KM Williams, and Misty Vongpakdy stated on the Peaceful Protest Facebook event page, “We would like to do a peaceful protest downtown or along Arkansas Avenue with our community and make a stand for our neighbors, brothers, sisters, mother, fathers, friends, coworkers, etc. Let's stand together in solidarity for our black community to rise up and let them know that we see them. We value their lives as our own and we stand with them. I may not have a very loud voice but together we can make our voice heard in our community together as one. Will you stand with me?“
Organizers asked everyone who planned to participate in the protest to be aware of social distancing and to wear a mask and in closing, organizers asked members of the community to come peacefully stating, “It is not our goal to spread chaos, but to stand together as one voice.”
After the event was shared through social media, the City of Russellville released a statement regarding the protest and also addressed rumors that began to be shared as well.
On Sunday afternoon, Richard Harris, Mayor of the City of Russellville stated through a release, “The City of Russellville encourages a peaceful protest that has been planned for this evening, May 31, 2020. As Mayor of our community, I appreciate the indviduals who scheduled the peaceful protest and I want to encourage all individuals to continue their involvement with our community. Those who would exercise their constitutional right to protest and want to express their concerns and discontent with the status quo, should be commended.”
The release continued, “While a peaceful protest is welcomed, it has come to my attention that there may be outside groups coming into our community that have an agenda to create a violent and confrontational environment. Russellville is a caring community and there is a standard of peaceful and non-violent behavior that we endeavor to uphold. We as a community cannot and will not tolerate unlawful and violent behavior in our community.”
In closing the mayor stated, “For those citizens who are here to protest in a peaceful and constitutionally protected manner, you are appreciated. For those who may be here to do otherwise, law enforcement will take action as appropriate to protect our city and its citizens.”
Throughout the afternoon, protestors stood in solidarity, displaying their signs, chanting their support and remaining peaceful.
At one point during the protest, a group of individuals displaying various firearms made their way downtown. Initially, the reasons behind their attendance were questioned but after being asked about their presence and their intentions, the group explained their reasons for attending the protest. They stated, “We support the cause 100%. Our city of Russellville is not going to burn. We are on your side, we love our town and we are here to protect it.”
After leaving the downtown area, the group traveled to Valley Park Center. After hearing rumors that others had ill intentions to travel to Russellville to cause disruption and damage, the group stood watch throughout most of the night protecting store fronts from possible looters and others who threatened to destroy property.
During the protest, law enforcement officers with the Russellville Police Department, Pope County Sheriff’s Office and Arkansas Tech University Office of Public Safety patrolled and monitored the area and managed the event respectfully and professionally.
Later in the evening, a window was broken at Goody’s located in the City Mall, but the damage was determined to have been caused by juveniles, not protestors. After the juveniles were identified by police, the situation was handled appropriately.
According the Russellville Police Department, there were no arrests made, there were no injuries and there we no reports of property being damaged or destroyed. Thanks to those who participated, the protest was in fact peaceful.
The community of Russellville is commended and appreciated by city officials, law enforcement and others who live in the community, for leading by example during Sunday’s protest.
The attached photos and the following video were captured during the protest on Sunday.