Hours after an Atlanta protest against police brutality erupted into violence and looting, a group of roughly 200 people gathered on the steps of the Cartersville courthouse for a peaceful demonstration.
Carrying signs and chanting “Black Lives Matter” and “I Can’t Breathe,” the diverse crowd rallied for about an hour Saturday afternoon to stress the importance of unity in their community.
Local police were present, but there were no confrontations with protesters and the officers’ presence was relatively minor.
A few onlookers gathered across Cherokee Avenue, filming the event on their cellphones, while others looked on from their cars as they drove past the courthouse.
"We're good people. We're mothers, we're sisters, we're fathers, we're brothers. We're all of those things,” said 34-year-old Ashley Rogers, who works for Bartow County Schools and studies education at nearby Georgia Highlands College. “Don't stop here."
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Her husband, Khyri, is a pastor at St. Luke Baptist Church in Cedartown, where they live.
The rally was organized by local activists Janicia Ledbetter and Tamia Hall.
Ledbetter, who only began planning the protest Friday, said she was pleasantly surprised by the solid turnout, especially after some of the negative feedback she received on social media.
"It went way better than they tried to make it seem like on Facebook," she said afterward.
Addressing some of the violent protests that have occurred across the nation in recent days, her sister, Itiana Jones, said it was important for them to keep the event peaceful.
“We agreed together — no riots, no looting, none of that,” she said. “Violence doesn't solve anything. If we come back with violence, they hit us harder. We are one together. We have to come together to make a difference, to make a change, to be bigger than what we are."
Cartersville police Capt. Mike Bettikofer said those in attendance demonstrated that people can make their voices heard without damaging property or clashing with police.
“Actually, it was fantastic,” he said. “We had zero issues. Everyone was really respectful and it was a peaceful gathering. It was a good crowd.”
The event, which emphasized positivity over profanity and political partisanship, culminated with a prayer from the Rev. Roy Fowler of Damascus Baptist Church in Emerson. He stressed the importance of coming together to bring about social change.
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"God, we know that there is a lot we have to accomplish, but the truth is we can't do it without you,” he said. “We realize, God, that there's a change that has to be made, but we also know you can't legislate righteousness. There has to be a transformation.”
His prayer was met with a rousing “Amen” from the crowd.
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