COLUMBUS, Ga. — A couple of arrests during a weekend protest in Uptown Columbus are fueling the tension between some activists and the city. Police placed local NAACP President Tonza Thomas and community activist Marquese “Skinny” Averett in handcuffs Saturday night. Dozens of impassioned people watched Averett walk away from the protest and straight to jail. News 3 caught up with Mayor Teresa Tomlinson, the head of public safety in the Fountain city.
The mayor says Averett and Thomas were arrested because they ignored directives from police. According to Mayor Tomlinson, police chief Ricky Boren dissuaded Averett multiple times against marching Saturday night. Averett says the chief only told him about the march once; however, he continued to hold the protest because of the violence that pervaded the nation last week in Baton Rouge, LA, St. Paul, MN and Dallas, TX.
“I woke up this morning a fresh week,” Averett said not even a full two days after posting bail and being released from jail. “I feel a little more fired up. I’m a little more ready to go. And we’re going to keep fighting until we can’t fight anymore.”
The city walks a fine line between balancing safety and free speech. The mayor says the Averett and Thomas were arrested on unlawful assembly and road obstruction charges because the two did not have a permit. Any demonstration that draws at least 16 people requires a permit. The mayor adds that had Averett requested a permit in advance, he would not have been arrested and police would have had enough notice to provide protection. The arrests came soon after protesters blocked Veterans Parkway
“That is a road that people drive on quite regularly at 45-50 miles per hour,” Mayor Tomlinson explained. “[Drivers] are looking at stop lights. They’re not expecting to see people in the road. If you have an inattentive driver, who knows what might happen.”
Averett understands the potential consequences that could have come from the illegal march.
“It’s all apart of getting in good trouble,” Averett said. “Sometimes you have to shake the foundation, you gotta shake the status quo. Sometimes you gotta get in the way.”
He likens the Black Lives Matter movement to the Civil Rights movement. At one point during an interview, Averett said the mayor and the police chief reminded him of Bull Conner pressuring Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and other civil rights movement supporters to stand down. The mayor says in the battle of Black Lives Matter vs. Blue Lives Matter, equality needs to remain the chief goal.
“Columbus is big enough for every voice to be heard,” Mayor Tomlinson said.
The mayor says to prevent Columbus from becoming hostile, the city uses high standards to hire police officers. Only 20% of police department applications are accepted from year to year.
For Averett, rebuilding trust with officers in the city comes from the ashes of national violence and tragedy.
“I’m proud of the work we were able to accomplish,” Averett said. “I think that by us being taken to jail, that that only threw gasoline on the situation. That only added fire to the movement.”
The community activist suggests that the city make all law enforcement officers wear body cameras. He also proposes the creation of citizen councils to hold police officers more accountable. He currently has a permit to protest Saturday, July 16, at Noon. That protest will be held at the Government Center. For more perspective on the protest from the mayor, click here.