Protesters gather, march in Cape Coral Friday evening
Cries for racial equality and the end of police brutality rang out in Cape Coral Friday evening, as members of the community gathered to peacefully protest and exercise their First Amendment rights.
Nearly 100 people gathered at Reflections Park in Cape Coral before marching to and around the Cape Coral Police Department, shouting calls of “Black Lives Matter” and “No justice. No peace.”
This is the first organized protest in the Cape following gatherings in Fort Myers over the last two weekends. Protests have been taking place around the country and the world in the wake of George Floyd’s death by now-former Minneapolis police officers on May 25.
People from all walks of life, age, race and background came to show their support for the black community.
“Being a black man, racism is something I’ve personally encountered, some of my friends have encountered, some of my family has encountered — it’s just a repeating cycle that I’m sick of,” said 22-year-old Cape resident Leonard Leon. “I’m tired of being tired. This is a problem that we’ve dealt with for 400-plus years.
“I’m coming out here because I feel that as a black man, I should speak my purpose. This is probably something I’ll be fighting for the rest of my lifetime, and my kid’s lifetime. I want to be the change. I don’t want to sit around and wait for someone to be the change when I can be the change.”
Signs were proudly displayed by protesters as they gathered in the park and made their way in numbers to the police department.
Men, women, old, young — all were there to stand, and also kneel, in solidarity with the movement.
“I was not expecting this many people to come out. I am very proud of this community coming together,” said Cape Coral resident, Kim Benson, who was a part of organizing the protest via social media. “Every voice creates a change, and I’m so happy for everyone to come out and realize that.”
Once at the police station, the group peacefully organized in the parking lot, where speakers shared their stories and points of view. There was also a moment of silence where everyone took a knee for 8 minutes and 46 seconds; the amount of time Floyd had the officers’ knees on his neck and back.
Many of the protesters said they came out to stand together with the black community and wanted to make their voices heard and to not remain silent when it comes to the Black Lives Matter movement and speaking up about police brutality.
There were also messages of education, most notably for the younger attendees to take the time to learn about the history of our country.
“We came out here to represent the black community and everybody who have been affected by this tragedy,” said 19-year-old Cape resident, Mason Terrasi. “I’m here to show out for my people; the black community. This is not just for George Floyd, this is for justice.”
Terrasi, along with a few other protesters of color, discussed what it was like to be a black male or female in Southwest Florida.
“Growing up here, I wouldn’t say it’s hard, but it’s difficult. You’re perceived by the community as anything they want to see you as, not as the person you are,” Terrasi said. “So the moment you step in a room, there’s eyes on you — the moment you step in. I just want it to feel different. I want everybody to know who I actually am. I’m a nice guy. I want to be there for everybody. I care about everybody here.”
Leon told of a time he was jogging at night in the city and was stopped by a cruiser.
“I love Southwest Florida, but I have had my racial experiences,” he said. “One time I was running at night, and actually got pulled over while I was on foot, which is surprising in itself. The officer I was talking with said, ‘You’re looking like trouble. You look like you’re headed out to do some trouble.’ I was as respectful as I could be, but in my mind I was thinking, ‘Well what does trouble look like, and why do I look like it?'”
Another Cape resident at the protest, Sabra Cash, said her place of employment would not allow her to wear a mask that had the letters “BLM” across the front.
Cash’s mother has been making masks since the pandemic began with the “BLM” moniker across the front, so the restaurant employee would wear the mask to work.
She said her manager in private told Cash that she was not allowed to wear the mask at work.
“I felt silenced by that,” Cash said. “That really motivated me to come out and protest and to be with the community. I feel that this isn’t a controversial situation, this isn’t something to stay neutral about. I wanted to have a voice. I wanted to stand up for myself and stand up for all of my people.”
Cash feels slighted by her employer’s actions and felt that she wasn’t supported by a place where she has worked for five years.
“Something like this, I thought they would have by back about,” Cash said while becoming emotional. “(My employers) say they are there for me, but I still can’t wear the mask. It’s only the lettering, it’s not the whole word. Some of my co-workers didn’t even know what it stood for. All it says is that my life matters. I don’t understand the problem with that.”
Some even traveled from across the bridge to show their support, just as Cape residents have traveled to Fort Myers to be a part of their gatherings over the last few weeks.
“This makes me feel great, because you see people here from all different backgrounds,” said Javier Teuntor, a Fort Myers resident. “I only know a few people here, but it’s just so beautiful. It doesn’t matter where you come from or what you do in life, everybody is here for the same cause. We just want to stop police brutality. We want social justice. We want to defund the police.
“This is not a trend. This is something we want to carry on so our kids don’t have to carry on. We owe it. We owe it to the slaves that died, to Martin Luther King, to Malcolm X, to those who fought in World War II. Our house is burning right now, and we need as much help as we can get.”
The message going forward? Keep the movement going.
“Keep spreading awareness. Don’t stop,” Benson said. “Do not be silent. Keep on spreading the message.”
-Connect with this reporter on Twitter: @haddad_cj