'I know it's a tragedy, but there's love behind this': Black Lives Matter rallies downtown

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DeKalb – As hundreds of people gathered at the Black Lives Matter rally at Memorial Park on Saturday and honored an 8-minute, 45-second moment of silence to start the demonstration, the only disruption was the occasional car horn in support.

"I appreciate you all coming out here," a driver shouted going southbound on First Street. "For real. For real."

An estimated 300 to 500 people showed up in response to the killing of George Floyd while in the custody of a Minneapolis police officer earlier this week. The prolonged moment of silence Saturday was in remembrance of the 8:45 the officer is seen in a video knelt on Floyd's neck, event organizer Vivian Meade said in a speech at the start of the event.

The march Saturday was part of nationwide demonstrations happening in cities as a response to the police-involved killings of Floyd and Breonna Taylor, as well as the killing of Ahmaud Arbery. Derek Chauvin, a white ex-Minneapolis police officer was arrested and charged with murder Friday, five days after video showed him kneeling on Floyd's neck for eight minutes while Floyd, a black man, could be heard pleading multiple times that he could not breathe.

A second rally planned by others is set for Sunday at 3 p.m. in front of the DeKalb Police Department, 700 W. Lincoln Highway.

Chancie Perkins, a graduate of DeKalb High School and Kishwaukee College, said he was uplifted by the rally Saturday.

"I know it's a tragedy, but there's love behind this," Perkins said. "Someone lost their life and there was no justice. It was awful. But it's love here. I like to see people together."

On March 13, Breonna Taylor, a 26-year-old black woman who worked as an emergency medical technician, was shot eight times to death inside her apartment after Jonathan Mattingly, Brett Hankison and Myles Cosgrove, police officers in the Louisville Metro Police Department in Louisville, Kentucky entered serving a "no-knock" warrant, and did not announce themselves as law enforcement officers before opening fire in the home.

On Feb. 23, Ahmaud Arbery, a 25-year-old black man, was shot and killed while jogging in a neighborhood near Brunswick in Georgia after being pursued and confronted by two white men, Travis and Gregory McMichael, who were armed with guns. A third white man, William Bryan, was following Arbery in a second car and recorded the fatal shooting on video, a video which did not go public until May 5. After the video went viral, the McMichaels were arrested and charged with murder.

Protests in major cities across the country have erupted this week following the death of Floyd.

Following the moment of silence the crowd, which includes families with their children, began marching east down Lincoln Highway toward Third Street, then back down Oak Street to First Street. Chants alternated between "I can't breathe," "Black Lives Matter," "No justice, no peace," and "Hands up, don't shoot."

And while the crowd size made staying 6 feet apart per social distancing guidelines difficult, most of the people at the rally wore masks. People walked around offering hand sanitizer while reminding people to stay 6 feet apart.

In her opening speech, Meade stressed the importance of working with the DeKalb police officers who were there at her request to help keep the peace.

"Originally I had marched in the Black Lives Matter march in Chicago in 2016," Meade said. "What stuck out most was the interaction between the Chicago Police and the people who were organizing the protest. The issue is Black Lives Matter. Not all cops are racist. There are a lot of police that support us. I wanted to reach out to DeKalb to make sure we had support and could remain peaceful and they were on board with it."

Trenton McCollum, an incoming senior at DeKalb High, said it was great seeing that many people show up in support of the Black Lives Matter movement.

Fellow DeKalb senior Brayten Wilkerson agreed.

"It brings me pride in DeKalb again," Wilkerson said. "I never knew we could all come together for something greater than ourselves. It's a blessing."

Wilkerson said his father, Bobby Wilkerson, suffered at the hands of a police officer in Rockford in November, making the matter personal for him.

"He was just trying to get into his house, and he fears that happening to me," Wilkerson said. "When I was going to school, I had that feeling. He was in the hospital near his death bed. I never knew if I was going to see him again. So I'm marching for all those untold, unheard stories."

Meade also said she has been the victim of a racial profiling incident more than once, and that made the turnout - she said there were more than 1,000 follows on the event's Facebook page - even more emotional.

"Right now it's a little overwhelming cause it's a huge surprise to me," Meade said. "But this is very important. I've been targeted, racially profiled in Iowa, different parts of the Midwest. I think as a black woman, it's time we stand up and do what's right and say no violence and stand up for justice."

Meade said Floyd's death was a breaking point for her and made her want to hold the rally, saying she woke up Friday and wanted to start a revolution in DeKalb.

"You see a lot of white allies out here, a lot of blacks, a lot of Latinos," Meade said. "The whole community came out. It's a melting pot of everything."

Kiara Jones, on the DeKalb County board representing District 5, said she was also moved by Saturday's turnout.

"It's for a beautiful cause. African American women, African American men, our lives do matter," Jones said. "The support we are getting, we just want our voice to be heard."

The Associated Press contributed to this report.