As the 11 a.m. bell rang from the Putnam county courthouse, Greencastle residents gathered on the lawn, as they have all summer, holding signs reading “Black lives matter,” and “End racism.”
First there were four. Then throughout the next hour, about 20 mostly older, white protesters showed up holding signs and chanting.
While protests have been seen across the nation, often focusing on violent confrontations in large cities, Greencastle community members have found their own steady voice.
Do what you can, where you’re at
Following the killing of George Floyd, Kayce Kean, a young Greencastle resident who wanted to get involved, first had planned to attend larger protests in Indianapolis. Then, her boyfriend suggested that she try to affect change in her own community.
That Saturday in early June, Kean and two others came out to the square for the first of many weekly rallies in Greencastle throughout this summer. Some weeks, the crowd has had more than 100 participants.
According to Kean, the community’s reaction to the rallies have been mixed. By 11:08 a.m. a shout came from a passing car: “All lives matter.”
“The first weekend we thought we would be overwhelmed by the amount of hate,” Kean said . “[Really it’s been] more positive than negative, but the negative responses are just so deeply rooted.”
For Kean the negative feedback is what makes showing up week after week so important.
“People will yell dirty things, we saw it in person,” she said as another car drove past honking with their middle finger out the window.
The honks, both supportive and negative, blend into the group’s chants led by Therno Diallo, a staff member at DePauw Athletics. “No Justice,” he shouted, “No Peace,” the crowd responded. They went on like this with different slogans for the majority of the hour. Then the Noon bell rang and Kean suggested a water break.
Across the street, quietly observing in a graphic tee that read “Papa bear,” Joseph Harris, VP of the Greencastle NAACP and CDI coordinator at DePauw, serves very much as a father figure for the protests.
In his role with NAACP, he is a mediator between protestors and Greencastle and Putnam county Police. Throughout the summer, Harris met with these organizations to work towards safe protests, and discuss issues like body cameras and protest policies.
The police have been open and receptive, according to Harris, as a result a majority of the protests are directed towards the national conversation and systemic issues.
The “Townies” and the students
As the presidential election approaches Harris has noticed “the rhetoric has increased.”
Additionally, students’ return to campus focuses the divide between Greencastle, a small rural city with over 90 percent white residents, and DePauw University, a Private Liberal Arts college with about 40 percent students of color (domestic and international).
In recent years there have been several bias incidents directed towards DePauw, perpetrated by community members. For Harris, the protests serve two goals that address this: bringing awareness and bringing people to the table.
“Not everyone here is what we think they are.” Harris said referencing an elederly white man at the protest holding a sign that read: “Saying I’m not racist is part of the problem.”
With students back in Greencastle, Kean and Diallo expressed interest in getting more students involved.
“We are trying to build the bridge between townies and students,” Kean said. “Letting the students know there is a community that supports them.”
Protests will continue at the courthouse for the next two Saturdays. Additionally, a Chalk the park event at Robe Ann Park is also scheduled for Sept. 27 5-9 p.m.