There are two groups at work in Gulfport protesting racial inequality and police brutality.
Every Tuesday and Friday evening, from 4:30 to 5:30 p.m., a group organized by Gulfport resident Phyillis Plotnik, gathers at the corner of Gulfport Boulevard and 49th Street S. The group holds signs and chants, “Black Lives Matter,” and “No Justice, No Peace.”
“In early June, I felt that Gulfport would be a wonderful community to show support for the Black Lives Matter/racial justice movement,” said Plotnik. “I asked a friend to join me and we each asked a few friends to meet us with masks, signage and adherence to social distancing at the intersection of 22nd Ave. S. and 49th St. S.”
Plotnik’s group has been picking up steam.
“On June 4th, eight of us demonstrated and on the 5th, 20 of us came together,” said Plotnik. “The experience has been powerful. Hundreds of black and white drivers pass by honking and waving. The horns blaring is music to everyone’s ears. The few ‘white power’ shouts remind us there is much work to be done.”
Plotnik’s group welcomes like-minded individuals who want to participate.
According to organizers, another group – “Gulfport Supports BLM,” (GPSBLM) – will have one meeting and one march a week. The next event is a meeting on Wednesday, June 17 at 5 p.m. to discuss future marches and their purpose for all involved. GPSBLM will meet at the east end of the Tangerine Greenway near 49th Street S. on Tangerine Avenue.
“We are going to bring signs to put up around us in hopes of gathering further interest,” said GPSBLM organizer Natashia Millburn.
“Gulfport Supports BLM is trying to promote unity between every Gulfport citizen and Gulfport Police in hopes of creating a sense of safety and solidarity within the community,” wrote Christopher Butler-Jones on the organization’s Facebook page.
The Facebook page is currently private, and requests that those interested answer a few preliminary questions to avoid negativity in the group.
“We are here to show support for the black citizens of Gulfport, to make it known that there is an open channel here. We are making a safe space for our black community to communicate with officials on discrimination, where they may otherwise be, rightfully, cautious to do so,” said Gulfport resident Rain Turner. “We need, at this point, for our black citizens to know that Gulfport isn’t turning a blind eye. That show of support alone has value.”
Turner noted Gulfport’s famously inclusive attitude.
“Gulfport is known as a place for equality, as we’ve long been considered a town in support of the LGBTQ community. We say things like ‘Keep Gulfport Weird,’ ‘Gulfport Hate Free Zone,’ and ‘Only in Gulfport.’ You can be yourself here, right?” said Turner.
“Right now inequality is all over the news because it is being uncovered with unchecked momentum all over our nation. Police brutality is becoming more apparent. Racism is being exposed,” continued Turner. “For our town to remain silent and simply state ‘not our problem’ or ‘take that somewhere else’ is not only contrary to our town ethos, but it’s also irresponsible and negligent.”
“No town should be exempt from having this conversation. You don’t get to hide from this big of a movement. In the words of Zack de la Rocha, ‘it has to start somewhere, it has to start sometime. What better place than here, what better time than now?’” stated Gulfport resident and GPSBLM organizer Naomi Rose.
“I don’t want this town to be free and equal only when it’s easy and fun,” said Turner. “I want this town to stand up for equality, even when it’s not a party. Otherwise, we haven’t earned the right to say Gulfport is for everyone. What a shame it would be to emerge from this, the largest civil rights movement in our country’s history, and realize that Gulfport hid under a rock.”
For frequent updates on future events, topics of discussion and community communication, join their Facebook page Gulfport Supports BLM Facebook group. Or request to be added to the email list at SolidarityinGulfport@gmail.com.
For those who have expressed concerns about social distancing and the use of masks at events, GPSBLM stated that they highly encourage the use of masks and will supply them for those who need them. The group says it will uphold social distancing guidelines at their meetings as well.