EATON — On what would normally be a quiet afternoon in Eaton, on Thursday, June 4, a protest for justice took place following the death of George Floyd in Minnesota.
A group of over 100 protesters lined the sidewalks of Eaton with chants and signs as they marched to the Preble County Courthouse to lay flowers in honor of Floyd.
The protest in support of Floyd and Black Lives Matter was organized by Ashton Cira, a 19-year-old resident of Eaton.
With protests over the last week drifting further out from big cities into smaller areas, Cira saw Eaton as a prime location to hold this demonstration.
“With it being such a small, white-dominant community, I think using our white privilege to speak out would be the best thing to do,” Cira said.
According to 2010 census data, Eaton’s population is 96.3 percent white and 0.6 percent black.
The march began at Fort St. Clair and moved towards the Preble County Courthouse before traveling north on Barron Street, eventually turning around near the Burger King past Debbie Drive and returning to the courthouse.
As protesters neared the courthouse, Eaton police officers were present along the route to distribute water to those marching, with some protesters stopping to shake hands or bump fists with the officers.
Most protesters began the march at Fort St. Clair, but many joined in its progress, coming from all directions in Eaton to join at the courthouse.
Once the protesters returned to the Preble County Courthouse, they gathered on the steps and in the plaza, shouting phrases such as “No Justice, No Peace” and “I Can’t Breathe” to the crowd which had formed, and holding up signs showing support for Floyd and Black Lives Matter.
The protesters then took part in a moment of silence for Floyd, kneeling on the ground with fists raised in the air, before placing flowers on the front steps of the courthouse and dispersing.
Cira hoped for a large turnout, and got his wishes after over 100 protesters showed up — but not to the point where things got out of hand.
“I’m hoping it to be mildly big but not too big to where it gets out of control. I’m hoping that we can bring the flowers…so everything stays peaceful,” Cira said prior to the march.
Nationwide protests in support of Floyd and the Black Lives Matter movement have taken place ever since the death of Floyd in Minneapolis, Minnesota on May 25 which was caught on video and quickly spread throughout the country.
Floyd, a 46-year-old black man, died after white Minneapolis Police Department officer Derek Chauvin knelt on his neck for nearly nine minutes.
Chauvin has since been charged with second-degree murder. Three other officers who were present and shown in the now-viral video have been charged with aiding and abetting second-degree murder.
There were concerns leading up to the protest that counter-protesters or outside agitators may make appearances. Most businesses on Main Street and Barron Street had either closed their doors for the day or had employees standing out front during the demonstration.
Some passersby shouted expletives, but the march was generally kept peaceful during its one-hour duration.
Other local groups showed up to show respect and lend moral support to the protestors. Carolyn Brubaker has lived in Eaton for over four decades. She and a few other like-minded Preble County residents have been praying outside the courthouse, usually for about an hour a day around noon, for the past few weeks.
“Our country needs prayer,” Brubaker said. “Our leaders need it so that they know how to do that. And so do those who are hurting.”
Brubaker said Eaton police have been supportive of the prayer group’s presence, and that they specifically encouraged them to be present during Thursday’s protest.
“They said ‘You have a total right to be here,’” Brubaker said.
Brubaker feels she has a connection to more than one recent crisis, as her family has been affected by both the protests across the country in the past two weeks and the Covid-19 pandemic.
“I have a son in New York City, and there was a big protest two blocks from his house,” Brubaker said. “And our daughter is an intensive care nurse who has Covid patients. So we’ve been doing a lot of praying.”
Her group chose the courthouse, according to Brubaker, because it is “a seat of local authority.
“I believe God places authority in our lives,” Brubaker said.
Erin Weimer, of Lakengren, has lived in Preble County for 40 years. She came to the courthouse on Thursday, she said, in order to pray for unity.
“We’re praying for our country, because it’s being torn apart,” Weimer said. “We thought, we need to cover the whole thing in prayer: for the protestors, for ourselves, for the community, and for our businesses.”
Weimer spoke supportively of the protestors’ motives and said she only wished for the event to come and go without violence.
“I think everybody here has a right heart about what they’re doing,” Weimer said. “But we want it to be done peacefully. We can’t control that kind of thing, but God can.”
Preble County Commissioner Rodney Creech, who was present at the site of the protest, was pleased with the outcome of the demonstration.
“I think it’s exactly what we were hoping for,” Creech said. “Something peaceful that actually has meaning instead of destructive that has a totally different meaning.”
Reach Braden Moles at 937-683-4061 or on Twitter @BradenMoles