JOHNSON CITY, Tenn. (WJHL) – A crowd of about 75 people gathered at Freedom Hall Saturday for a “Black Lives Still Matter” rally.
The protest was organized by Kemp Faneto, who told News Channel 11’s Bianca Marais that the goal of the protest was to stand – and kneel – with the East Tennessee State University’s men’s basketball team to protest discrimination and racism.
“A lot of the people that are arguing and that are making a big hassle about the kneeling are the same people that were silent when, you know, racial and justices have been practiced all over the nation. The kneeling on George Floyd’s neck for eight minutes and 45 seconds. These people were silent about that but then you have a problem with these. These basketball players are standing up for what they believe is right,” Faneto said.
“Most of these players they’re not from Johnson City, Tennessee, they’re from cities where these racial and justices are practiced a lot more not saying that it’s not a problem here but I do understand. It’s not that big of an issue here, but injustice to one person is injustice to everybody. It doesn’t matter if you’re black, white, brown, purple, yellow, doesn’t matter. So we’re here to stand up for all of our black, brown, and indigenous people all over. As you can see we have a diverse group of people. So we’re not saying that all lives don’t matter, we’re saying all lives cannot matter until we realize that black lives matter. So that’s basically our reasoning for being here today. I wanted to schedule, I scheduled this or organize this because I am an athlete myself, and I know it’s uncomfortable, playing for a team, and playing in an organization that does not stand with you does not kneel with you. We are not disrespecting the American flag at all. We are here to practice our first amendment that that’s what the troops fought for so that’s what we’re here for,” Faneto added.
People from across Tennessee descended upon Freedom Hall Saturday for the show of solidarity with the Bucs.
Constance Every of Black Coffee Justice drove all the way from Knoxville to join in.
“That was the goal, just reminding people that this is a challenge to your freedom of speech, and again, it’s a challenge to these children’s understanding what that means and that right that they have to it and again, having some form of suppression and racism trying to come in and actually compress and control it. So, we want to send a clear cut message not just to ETSU, not just to the state, the Tennessee legislators, but the entire America that this will not be tolerated no matter where it’s at, you’re not going to silence children’s voices, especially when police brutality and murder of our Black men for no reason still happening and it’s a concern that we have to have and America needs to get to the core problem of racism, and that’s really the issue, so don’t silence us because you’re not addressing the real problem, which is racism,” she told News Channel 11’s Bianca Marais.
But not everyone present was excited about the protest during the national anthem.
“I’m part of the group that still loves this country and understands that yeah there are issues that need to be taken care of, but during the national anthem, and in front of the flag is not the place this really burns a hole in my heart and then I spent four years in Arlington Cemetery with the Third U.S. Infantry Regiment, the old guard burying the real heroes of this country. It’s shed their blood to give them the right to be here as well as me, and that’s why I’m here,” Rick Ward said.
Ward added that the right to protest is protected by the Constitution, but he said he feels the basketball players dishonored the flag and anthem by kneeling.
“God love them for it, but not in front of the flag. This is not a black and white issue. This is a red issue. There’s been a whole lot of blood spread shed, to give him the right to do this. And that’s why I’m here to make sure that we still have the right to do that and to do this,” he said.
The ETSU men’s soccer team Saturday joined in the kneeling protest ahead of its match.