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Ruston residents protest racial injustice

Wednesday, June 3, 2020
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Leader photos by CALEB DANIEL

Isaiah Heath, middle, began protesting racial injustice and police brutality on Tech Drive in Ruston Tuesday morning and was soon joined by Jessica Tabor, left, and Kari McGuire.

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Heath, left, brought protest signs to Tech Drive in response to the death of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police officers on May 25.

Small-scale versions of protests against racial injustice and police brutality that have swept the country and the world in recent days came to Ruston Tuesday.

Isaiah Heath, a black man of Ruston, took to the sidewalk by the intersection of Tech Drive and West Alabama Avenue around 8 a.m. He brought signs bearing the name of George Floyd, a black man who pleaded for air on May 25 as a Minneapolis, Minnesota police officer, who has since been arrested for murder, knelt on his neck until he died.

A little later in the morning, Kari McGuire and Jessica Tabor, both white women, saw Heath’s demonstration and joined him. There were reports of other isolated peaceful protests on Tuesday as well. A post circulating on social media indicates a march is being planned on Louisiana Tech University campus at noon Thursday.

One of Heath’s signs lists Floyd alongside the names of other victims from high-profile incidents of racial injustice. He said that while those names aren’t personal to him, the issues he’s protesting are.

“I got dead people all over me,” Heath said, pointing to one of multiple tattoos of people on his arms. “She was killed by an officer. I just wanted to do something.”

Drivers on Tech Drive pulled up to offer the protesters food and water, sometimes shouting encouragement through the car window.

Heath said he would continue his demonstration “until my legs drop,” and he hopes the message it sends is a positive one.

“I live in the hood. We spend a lot of time at each other’s (throats),” he said. “I feel like I’ve made enough mess of my life, so I might as well invest a little positivity.”

While some of the largest protests across the country in the wake of Floyd’s death have turned into riots replete with violence and looting, major demonstrations in Louisiana cities like Monroe, Lake Charles and Baton Rouge and New Orleans have reportedly been performed peacefully.

Amid the coronavirus pandemic and escalating protests nationwide, Ruston Mayor Ronny Walker read a statement at the end of Monday’s meeting of the city’s Board of Aldermen.

“We as a nation, state, and city are simultaneously dealing with various problems resulting in great uncertainty in various aspects of our society,” he said.

“I simply encourage you to remember that despite the uncertainty, that God is in control and request your daily prayers for our fellow citizens, state, and country.”

McGuire teaches history at Choudrant High School. She said she saw Heath standing on the sidewalk and knew she had to join him.

“I teach about civil rights all the time, and I always question myself and my students: ‘What would you do if given the opportunity?’” McGuire said. “So here I am.”

She held one of Heath’s signs bearing a quote from civil rights icon Martin Luther King, Jr. — “The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience but where he stands in times of challenge and controversy.”

She said the demonstration took her out of her comfort zone, but the brutality of Floyd’s death, which was captured on video, spurred her to action.

“It was awful,” McGuire said. “I’m not a black American, so I can’t really say I know how they feel, but as an American, it’s just awful. People are tired of it. You’ve got to do something, even if it’s just standing here with a sign.”

Several Lincoln Parish public figures have issued statements condemning racism and oppression following Floyd’s death, including Tech President Les Guice and Grambling State University President Rick Gallot.

“As a lifelong advocate for black justice, it is overwhelmingly heartbreaking that your generation of Gramblinites would still face the same persistent systemic racism as mine and all of those before us,” Gallot said in a message addressed to his students Monday. “You are not alone in in your feelings of outrage and grief.”