In front of the Athens County Courthouse, Keshawn Mellon, Merri Biechler and Shelley Delaney stood with peaceful protestors Sunday against the death of George Floyd, a black man who was killed May 25 by Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin.
“I came out here because I have to,” Mellon, a black student and senior studying acting, said. “There’s a mix of emotions that happens when you see someone who looks like you get killed and nothing happens, especially when it happens repeatedly.”
Delaney, assistant director of the school of theater and professor of theater, and Biechler share Mellon’s feeling of necessity.
“Violence in this country is also a pandemic,” Biechler said. “This is a virus of violence against black people.”
Biechler and Delaney hope everyone will step forward to fight against injustice and inequality; otherwise, it won’t stop.
“This needs to be the one to change things,” Biechler said.
The peaceful protest Sunday started at College Green and then made its way to the Athens Municipal Court where protestors filled the stairway. “BLACK LIVES MATTER” cardboard signs were held, and chants echoed throughout Court Street while passing cars honked in solidarity.
Messages written in chalk, like “Justice For Floyd” inside a coffin, colored the sidewalk of the courthouse as well.
Though the backdrop of the protest was centered on Floyd, Mellon believes the community can make changes to combat racism and discrimination, too. Mellon said diversity training could be given to not just the Ohio University Police Department, but the Athens Police Department as well.
“I think there’s plenty the Athens community can do,” Mellon said. “We could start a community center for specifically black people. We could give all of our professors diversity education and diversity training … I think Ohio University could work to honor their mission of diversity at OU, too.”
Another backdrop of the protest was the coronavirus.
Mellon acknowledges the dangers in protesting during a pandemic.
“I come out here and maybe risk getting sick and maybe risking (the protest) getting violent … or I stay home, and I do nothing, and I continue living my life as a black man where violence can happen to me at any time at any day, and it be legal,” Mellon said.
Racial violence isn’t uncommon for Mellon. In one instance on OU’s East Green, a group of white men yelled the N-word and chased Mellon home.
Mellon believes people cannot be silent during these times.
“Silence is complicity,” he said. “We’re taught as elementary school kids that if you see someone being bullied and you don’t do anything, that you’re part of the problem. If you’re here and you see people being attacked on the street and you don’t do anything to help the situation, you’re just as bad because you’re just letting it happen,”
Past the sorrow Mellon has, he’s pleased by the number of protestors who showed up on the courthouse steps.
“I honestly didn’t imagine this many people would come out in Athens for this protest,” Mellon said. “But my reaction? Joy. So much joy.”