A group of approximately 60 people representing “Peaceful Protesters in Franklin County,” gathered in Pacific Saturday, July 4, to speak out against racism and prejudice.
Protest spokesperson Erin Burger, a Maryland Heights resident, said the goal of the demonstration was to increase awareness that “prejudice is still alive and well, even some may argue, especially, in beautiful small towns like Pacific.”
The demonstration, held from 6-8:30 p.m. in a grassy area not far from Interstate 44 off West Osage Street, drew frequent supportive honking and fist-bumping from drivers passing by, despite opposition online ahead of the gathering.
Pacific Mayor Steve Myers informed residents prior to the demonstration that law enforcement was prepared for the event and any counterprotesting. “In America, peaceful protests are allowed on both sides on any issue,” he said. “Violence, however, will not be tolerated and will be dealt with swiftly.”
Protest organizer Alexandria Gray said she’s leading local demonstrations to bring attention to “the injustice of the U.S. law system and how it’s failing Americans.” Gray, who is biracial and a former resident of St. Clair, said she grew up witnessing and dealing with racism. Now president of a group called Equality Right Now, Gray said she’s committed to making sure their voices are heard.
Gray and Burger, Equality Right Now’s secretary, said prejudice is found in many forms, from blatant racism to implicit bias.
“Prejudice manifests itself as systemic injustice in our laws, our methods of policing and for-profit prisons. As a peaceful organization, none of us are paid protesters, and we intend to work toward meaningful change in our communities with the ultimate goal being equity for our marginalized community members,” Burger said.
Nicholas Savage, a Pacific High School grad who is now a faculty member at Webster University and the director of modern music at Salem United Methodist Church, was one of the demonstration’s speakers. He encouraged reconciliation and peace, encouraging “empathy, not apathy.”