Protesters in Cullman demonstrate against racism; counterprotesters vow to protect property

Protesters walk around Depot Park Sunday afternoon. (W.C. Mann for The Cullman Tribune)

CULLMAN, Ala. – On Sunday afternoon, a group of young people who, at times, numbered around 25, came to Depot Park to protest racism and the killing of George Floyd in Minnesota. Through the afternoon, they waved at passers-by and walked around the park carrying signs reading “Black Lives Matter,” “I Can’t Breathe,” “Respect Existence or Expect Resistance,” “Be the Change” and other slogans. 

As the protesters gathered, rumors circulated on social media that the people behind the demonstration were among instigators of riots that damaged 30 businesses in Nashville Saturday. In response, a group of counter protesters, some openly armed, assembled at local businesses near the park, saying they would protect those properties from any effort at violence.

Cullman Police Chief Kenny Culpepper, who was on the scene throughout the afternoon, told The Tribune, “We’ve got a group of peaceful protesters here at the Depot Park, and I’ve talked to them; they’re very peaceful. I’ve explained the proper procedures, and they said that they will go through that. We’re trying to make sure that there’s no issues with anybody else, though, that might be wanting to counter protest.”

The entire event remained peaceful, under the watchful eye of the Cullman Police Department, supported by officers from the Hanceville Police Department. The CPD called in its tactical team, but neither the tactical officers nor supporting personnel from Hanceville had to be deployed.

The relative peace and quiet was broken only once, early in the afternoon, when protesters lined up along the edge of Second Avenue Northeast got into a shouting match with a handful of counter protesters across the street. When the counter protesters crossed the street, Cullman Police moved in. Chief Culpepper personally stood between the two sides in the street, sending the counter protesters back down to the Texaco station where they had assembled before ordering the protesters away from the street. No violence occurred during the brief incident.

Cullman native Chasady Vandiver, spokesperson for the protesters, told The Tribune, “We were upset about everything that’s going on, and we thought we’d bring it to Cullman. Change needs to be brought to Cullman. I didn’t think as many people would come as they did today.”

Across the street, Jonathan Bishop told The Tribune that his family owns the Texaco station facing Depot Park on Second Avenue, and said that he supported the protesters’ right to demonstrate, but that he and the others gathered there would protect their property from the kind of violence that has been seen in other cities where protests turned into riots.

Gesturing toward the protesters, Bishop said, “All this is doing is bringing trouble to here; that’s all it’s doing. They said it’s peaceful; it was peaceful in Hoover last night, and then it turned into mayhem. That’s exactly what it’s done. 

“But what they’re doing is, they’re doing ‘Black Lives Matter.’ Where’s the sign saying white lives matter? Cops are not targeting black people like they’re saying. That’s their exact words over there a while ago: cops are targeting them. That was one cop in a uniform; that is a certain individual. It’s not the whole force, by no means. 

“They want to bring it here because somebody wants to get online and say, ‘Whose parents has told them never to stop in Cullman?’ because of the past. But that’s the past. I’ve got probably 40 or 50 black friends I love to death like a brother. But this is becoming stupid. See, them holding signs up like ‘Black Lives Matter’ is giving the people- the black community, which I don’t have a problem with- a chance to say ‘It’s racism, it’s racism.’ It’s not. Me, him, anybody doing anything wrong, when we resist arrest, we’re going to be thrown to the ground. I mean, it’s just the way it is.

“There’s nothing wrong with protesting, but just doing ‘Black Lives Matter;’ it should be ‘All Lives Matter,’ is what it should be. Like I said, I don’t have a problem with the black community, by no means. But this is just going to bring something bad here, is what it’s going to do.”

Vandiver said that the protesters have no specific plans for more demonstrations, but said,“If we’re still needing to fight, then we’re going to come out here and protest peacefully.”

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In the only tense moment of the demonstration, Cullman Police Chief Kenny Culpepper places himself between protesters and counterprotesters facing off across Second Avenue Northeast. (W.C. Mann for The Cullman Tribune)

W.C. Mann