COVINGTON, Ga. — The Covington Square was filled with droves of concerned citizens for five hours Wednesday as a peaceful demonstration took place to protest police brutality in America.
In the wake of the death of George Floyd, a 46-year-old black man who was killed in a police incident in Minnesota on May 25, protests have broken out across the nation. Earlier this week, one Covington resident took it upon himself to provide the citizens of Newton County with a platform to share their voice amid the unrest.
Timothy Birt, a 22-year-old graduate of Eastside High School, felt led to organize a peaceful protest following a prayer session earlier this week.
“First and foremost, I’m a man of God. I was praying early Monday morning around 2:30 a.m. and I just asked God to come over me and use me as a vessel to show people who He really is,” Birt said. “At that moment, He hit me with the idea that I wanted to do a protest.”
When Birt got off work Monday, he went to the Covington Police Department and spoke with Stacey Cotton, Chief of Police. Following lengthy conversations with Cotton and Newton County Sheriff Ezell Brown, Birt obtained a permit to hold a peaceful protest on the Square on Wednesday from 10 a.m.-3 p.m.
Shortly after 10 a.m. Wednesday, Birt was encircled by protestors in the center of the Square and began to deliver a message. He urged those in attendance to remain nonviolent and express their frustration through words rather than physical actions. He said that he wanted justice and didn’t believe violent behavior would lead to that. He harped on the importance of voting and making a difference in America through participation at the polls.
Ultimately, he called for unity.
“I look at this more as a community event than a protest, but we call it a protest because that’s the language of the people for their voices to be heard,” Birt said later. “I just want people to be heard, and I want the people to hear back from elected officials so they know what’s actually going on.”
The protestors were then guided to the concert pad on the southeast corner of the Square. They stood and listened as Birt, Chief Cotton, Sheriff Brown and several other elected officials addressed them. Heartfelt messages were shared seeking unity and change, as well as voter participation in next week’s primary elections.
Covington Mayor Steve Horton was one of several elected officials in attendance Wednesday. He expressed his gratitude for the cooperation of the protestors to remain peaceful and productive.
“I think it’s been a great day. I think a lot of people have had the opportunity to make their voices known,” Horton said. “The city of Covington is fully committed to justice for all people. We’re just glad to have a forum here and an opportunity for people to put their hearts and their voices behind a cause.”
Cotton also commended those in attendance for exercising their right to protest in a peaceful manner.
“We want to come out and be the protectors and let these folks know that they don’t have to worry about their safety,” Cotton said. “You can say what you need to say, feel what you need to feel and know that we’ve got your back like you’ve got our back. And I want them to know that we’re standing there with them. We’re hurting, too."
Brown echoed similar sentiments, stating his hope that a peaceful protest “means progress.”
“This is a fight that we all must gravitate to and continue to move forward. I’m hoping that in years to come, your grandkids and their grandkids will see a better America,” he said.
The early afternoon saw a second wave of protesters flock to the Square. Dozens marched along sidewalks holding signs and crying out chants, which ranged from “Hand’s up, don’t shoot” to “I can’t breathe” to “No justice, no peace, no racist police.”
The protestors then kneeled together in solidarity before circling around and establishing a forum for individuals to speak out over the final hour of the demonstration.
On Wednesday, the Minneapolis Police officer who kneeled down on Floyd’s neck, leading to his death, was charged with a new count of second-degree murder. Additionally, the other three officers who were on scene at the time of his death were charged with aiding and abetting second-degree murder.
The first memorial service for Floyd was held in Minneapolis on Thursday afternoon. A second service is scheduled to take place Saturday, June 6, in Raeford, N.C. There will be a public viewing from 11 a.m.-1 p.m., followed by a memorial service at 3 p.m.