A group of protesters took what they believed to be a step toward ending police violence June 4 in Fort Wayne. However, not all the demonstrators gathered downtown shared the same point of view.
Mayor Tom Henry, members of the Fort Wayne Police Department and other elected officials joined protesters in a “Unity March” from the Allen County Courthouse to the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Bridge, where Mayor Henry expressed his intention to keep police violence off the streets of Fort Wayne.
“They didn’t come out here because they wanted to, they came out here because all of us made them come out here. We need our demands met,” Relando Rencher, one of the organizers of the march, said. “It’s not us against the police. It’s not us with the police.”
Rencher and other activists who had been protesting outside the courthouse since May 29 met with Henry and Fort Wayne Police Chief Steve Reed earlier in the day. By 4 p.m., police had closed off sections of Main Street and South Clinton Street from Main to Fourth Street, so protesters could march peacefully.
Mayor Henry linked arms with protestors and exchanged words with them as they marched.
“The primary purpose of today is for all of us to be able to express the fact that we are a community — that even though we have differences, even though we have different ways to express the needs and desires of what we want as individuals, there’s no reason that we cannot work as one,” Henry said “… Physically we’ve shown that we have needs in this community. Now we need to sit down and have a serious dialogue, ultimately work together to make sure that we are unified in reaching our goals.”
Once at the bridge, Mayor Henry and other officials spoke to the crowd. Those speeches were met with chants of “Black Lives Matter” and “follow through.”
“We’re standing on the Martin Luther King Jr. Bridge together. That’s what we need to do is stay together,” Reed told the crowd. “Fort Wayne is strong — we are strong together. We will work through our problems — we will stand together.”
A protester near the makeshift soundstage thanked a police officer for his service. Protesters encouraged their peers to thank those around them and say “I love you” to their neighbors.
“Let legislation hear these voices,” was the message Pastor Cedric Walker, founder and lead pastor of Joshua’s Temple Fort Wayne, had for the crowd.
Other well-known faces joined the crowd, including Fort Wayne City Council members and Sweetwater Sound owner Chuck Surack.
“I believe the administration is trying to get the City Council more involved, and I appreciate that aspect of it,” City Council President Tom Didier, R-3rd district, said.
Not all the protesters downtown that evening chose to participate in the march. About an hour before the courthouse group began organizing, another protest group across the street at Freimann Square told passersby they didn’t feel safe marching with the police. Many demanded an apology for the police department’s use of tear gas on protesters May 29 and 30.
Those two nights, the first in a series of weeklong demonstrations, police said they used tear gas to disperse crowds when protesters began to block traffic on Clinton Street.
During the mayor’s speech June 4, some individuals expressed their anger over Allen County Sheriff David Gladieux’s presence at the march. Gladieux is currently facing a lawsuit filed by the family of a 15-year-old victim of an alleged battery by Gladieux at the Three Rivers Festival last July. Many protesters carried signs calling for Gladieux’s removal from office.
As march participants made their way to the MLK bridge, protesters along the sidewalk shouted, “These are the same people that tear gassed you.”
As the marchers made their way back to the courthouse, that same group of protesters stood in the street and asked members of the other protest group to join them as they chanted “No apology, no march.” The atmosphere was tense, but remained peaceful.