Dozens of protesters marched from Kilgore City Park to Kilgore Police Department headquarters on Kilgore Street on Thursday evening to directly address city government officials and police officers over what they say is systemic racism in law enforcement departments here and across the nation.
The march comes in the wake of the recent death of George Floyd, a black man killed in Minneapolis, Minn., on May 25 while in police custody.
Thursday’s demonstration remained peaceful, though voices from protestors and city officials at times became raised as those in front of KPD debated solutions to issues of what they say is racism in the local school system and government.
Meeting with protestors were Kilgore Police Chief Todd Hunter, Mayor Ronnie Spradlin, Councilman Victor Boyd, City Manager Josh Selleck and several KPD officers and city staff.
Hunter addressed the crowd first, thanking them for coming and inviting questions. He began by acknowledging he had called Floyd’s death a tragedy and a crime but said KPD was an accredited law enforcement institution with strong policies against racism and discrimination.
“Black lives still matter, you hear me?” one marcher shouted.
“They do matter,” Hunter replied over a megaphone. “They all matter.”
When asked about KPD’s policies regarding anti-discrimination training, Hunter held up a copy of the department’s policies and invited anyone interested to read it, adding Kilgore officers go through months of training and testing before donning their KPD uniforms.
Mayor Spradlin and Boyd also addressed the crowd, encouraging those marching to attend city council meetings and run for city offices to make a change.
Boyd said he first decided to run for his council seat because there were no other black council members and he wanted to change things in the community.
“If there’s someone that you don’t want in that (city official) position, then you step up and run for that office,” Boyd told the assembly.
Several of the marchers expressed frustration with the suggestion, saying many people didn’t have internet access to find out information about upcoming council meetings and many did not have the money to finance a political campaign. The group made clear a desire for more immediate solutions.
“What can we do today?” several in the crowd shouted.
Selleck proposed sending written notifications to Kilgore residents informing them of city council meeting dates, times and agendas. Spradlin quickly agreed and announced the information would be mailed out with city water bills.
A Facebook livestream of the event gathered over 250 viewers as the group of more than 100 stood in the heat by KPD.
Joshua Daniels, a former Kilgore High student and athlete who organized the march, was one of the first to speak to the group, describing his own experience with law enforcement. He said he had been unfairly sentenced after being charged with a drug crime several years ago, ruining his chances to better his future with an athletic scholarship.
“I feel like there’s more that needs to be done. The problem is that the system is racist, period. That’s how I feel. Until something is done, I’m going to keep stepping up and be a voice in Kilgore, Texas,” Daniels said after Rev. Will Wilson of First Presbyterian Church closed the demonstration with a prayer for unity.
Many of the demonstrators echoed this point, calling the criminal justice system in Texas and the U.S. racially biased against people of color.
“The criminal justice system is broken,” Hunter said, acknowledging the nationwide problem after reaffirming KPD’s strict no-tolerance policy for racist behavior among its officers and staff.
Spradlin said he was appreciative of the opportunity for peaceful dialogue with community members.
“People cared what they thought and people wanted to listen. A lot of people felt like they’d never had the opportunity to be listened to before and were surprised that what they believe matters,” he said.
He added he and city staff were ready and willing to work with Kilgoreites.
“We’re very interested and we’re hoping to have some involvement and start with a new awakening to city government.”