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Peaceful protesters march for justice in Natchez

NATCHEZ — A group of approximately 60 people joined in on a peaceful protest march along Martin Luther King Jr. Street in Natchez on Wednesday morning.

The group, co-organized by Natchez residents Robert Bates and Brandon Curtis, gathered at 9 a.m. Wednesday in a parking lot near the intersection of Martin Luther King Jr. Street and Pilgrim Boulevard before marching south toward downtown Natchez with chants of “No justice, no peace.”

Bates said he and Curtis organized the event after the death of George Floyd who was killed last week in Minneapolis, Minnesota, after a police officer put his knee on Floyd’s neck and the incident was video taped and it went viral sparking protests throughout the nation.

“We want to bring awareness to racism and police brutality,” Bates said, adding he also wants justice for locals he believes have not been treated fairly in the justice system, including Gary White, who was sentenced last year to 20 years in a fatal 2017 DUI case. White’s sentence was later reduced to 12 years.

Bates and Curtis said they also organized the event to bring awareness to black-on-black crimes that were responsible for some 18 murders in Natchez in 2018.

Most of the participants said a desire to bring awareness to and an end to police brutality and black on black crime motivated them to come out Wednesday morning.

“I’m marching for black lives lost to police brutality,” said Ke’Ari Hayes, who participated in Wednesday’s march.

Kya Mathis of Natchez said she also was marching to bring awareness to black lives lost.

Tyreike Singleton of Natchez said he wanted to participate in the peaceful protest.

“I’m out here to march to spread a positive message,” Singleton said.

Natchez Police Chief Walter Armstrong showed up at the beginning of the event and said Bates had met with him on Tuesday to discuss plans for the peaceful march.

Armstrong gave the group a speech before the marchers left the parking lot, saying everyone should be upset about the way Floyd was killed and that no good law enforcement officers would condone that conduct.

“In other words, we stand with you in making sure that our voices are heard,” Armstrong said. “I met with a young man yesterday in my office by the name of Robert Bates. I commend this young man, 27-years of age, for coming to my office about what you all want to do. I said to him, ‘This is a great idea, and I can’t think of anything to make it better,’ but we also had conversations about other matters in our community.”

Armstrong made reference to 18 murders of young black people that occurred in Natchez in 2018.

“Every one of them looked like you and I,” Armstrong said. “That should be unacceptable with anyone, so I said to Mr. Bates, ‘We should not stop at the end of the walk. We should keep this momentum going and address other ills of our community. Right now it is the deaths of the African Americans at the hands of other African Americans.’”

Armstrong also said it is important to protest in a positive way and not destroy the community, and he commended Bates for organizing a positive protest.

Shortly after Armstrong’s address, marchers proceeded along Martin Luther King Street carrying signs reading, among others, “No Justice, No Peace,” “Black Lives Matter” and “Our Demand is Simple, Stop Killing Us.”