Wednesday afternoon, June 3, protesters gathered at the Highland Crossings shopping center to protest police brutality and call for racial equality and justice, five days after former Minnesota police officer Derek Chauvin was arrested and charged of murder for the death of George Floyd during an arrest.

The protest was organized to be a prayer meeting by Highland resident and Crafton Hills College student Emily Smith. Smith attends Immanuel Baptist Church and the event opened with speeches and prayers led by several local pastors, including Immanuel Baptist pastor Ben Skaug.

“I grew up in Highland and have never had anybody come out for the African American community,” Smith said. “We want to be heard in the most peaceful manner. Police brutality must be stopped.”

For Smith, the event was also important in allowing a hurting community to grieve.

“I want all my people to feel comfortable in our community,” Smith said.

The speakers' messages were that all people and God's creation, created in his image and need to be loved and respected.

Smith and the pastors each emphasized the importance of holding a peaceful protest if their voices were to be listened to after days of statewide and nationwide protests that have been accompanied by violence and looting.

“Everyone is asking for justice, but, as of the past few days, it’s turned ugly,” said Scott Stevenson before praying for the nation, the city, the African American community and law enforcement. He shared that in Ephesians 4:26 the Bible states, “Be angry but do not sin.”

About 400 protesters attended after learning of the event through social media and through their churches.

After the opening prayers, megaphones were offered to anyone who wanted to speak on the issue of police brutality. The group then marched down Greenspot chanting slogans and waving posters. Among the slogans were, “Black lives matter” and “To be silent is just as bad.”

Those uncomfortable with gathering during the coronavirus pandemic were invited to contribute to the protest by donating water and parading in their cars.

About the threat of COVID-19, Emily pointed out that police brutality has been around for decades while coronavirus has only been a problem for months.

“We’re willing to risk our lives for this cause,” she added.

Emily said that she chose the In-N-Out parking lot for the location of the event because while she was attending Citrus Valley High School that is where her classmates and the community gathered after sporting and other community events.

“If we gather here to celebrate it’s a good place to come together to hear each others voices on this important issue,” Emily said.

According to Emily’s father Jeff Smith, the event began at 3 p.m. and was scheduled to be over before 6 p.m. due to the 90-degree heat and the city’s 6 p.m. curfew, instituted after several instances of vandalism and looting on Sunday night and Monday morning.

Earlier that morning many of the Highland Crossings businesses boarded up their storefronts and closed early out of concern for their property and safety upon learning that a protest was to take place.

In an effort to protect businesses, residents and peaceful protesters while discouraging vandalism, there was a strong police presence at the shopping center.

The deputies provided traffic control by shutting down traffic lanes on Greenspot. According to a report released by the sheriff's department the next morning, there were no reports of problems during the protest.

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