More than 60 demonstrators took to the streets of Fairplay in a peaceful protest Friday morning to express their displeasure regarding police violence against minorities.
Like many of the recent protests in communities nationwide, Friday’s protest in Fairplay was centered around the death of George Floyd, a 46-year-old African-American who died May 25 in Minneapolis, Minn. after white police officer Derek Chauvin knelt on his neck for almost nine minutes while Floyd was handcuffed and held face down on pavement.
The protest began at about 11 a.m. on Fourth Street, continued along Front Street and eventually reached U.S. Highway 285 before tracking back along that same route and concluding around 12:20 p.m.
Paul Mattson, a native of Fairplay and a Navy veteran of two military campaigns, Enduring Freedom and Iraqi Freedom from 2001-2006, was amongst the protesters.
“I served alongside brothers and sisters of all colors, fighting for freedom for all Americans,” Mattson said. “And to come home and see the injustices that continue to occur against people of color by our police is absolutely disgusting.”
Mattson also asserted that all lives matter, and that no person should have to suffer police brutality, but that his reason for protesting stemmed specifically from what he referred to as a long history of police violence against minorities in this country.
“The fact that this many people turned out today in a predominantly white, conservative community just speaks to the fact that this has become a glaring issue,” Mattson said.
Friday’s rally was organized and executed in large part by Fairplay resident Loren Martin, who served as the point-person in front of the large, spirited, and sometimes-loud party of demonstrators.
“It is moving to see how many people turned out with us here today,” Martin said.
“It is also great to have my son here, and for him to understand that people are mistreated in this country because of their skin color. It’s up to his generation to do the right things, and to succeed where generations before them have failed.”
Members of the Town of Fairplay Police Department, as well as the Park County Sheriff’s Office, closely monitored the demonstration from their patrol cars. Protesters, meanwhile, all wearing protective face covering in lieu of COVID-19 concerns, remained orderly throughout the event.
Park County Sheriff Tom McGraw, who spoke to The Flume prior to the event, respected the rights of the demonstrators to protest peacefully and was overtly supportive of their cause.
“I support the protests on this issue,” McGraw said.
“Bad cops are not liked by good ones because it takes away completely from the good work and good things they are doing. Ninety-nine percent of people in law enforcement do the right things, and are professionals. But when one guy does a bad job, it really stands out.”
McGraw said he had observed the graphic video of Floyd’s last moments, and Officer Chauvin’s actions, and that he found the officer’s actions to be wholly unacceptable.
“I have not talked to anyone in law enforcement who says what that officer did was okay, or that what he did was part of any normal police procedures,” McGraw said.
“This has to do with changing mentality, and law enforcement agencies have to work hard from the top down to make it clear that nobody should ever be mistreated.”
Finally, McGraw drew a distinction between those exercising their right to protest in a peaceful fashion, and those destroying property and committing criminal acts.
“Those are two separate entities,” McGraw said. “There are people who protest in a legal, peaceful way, and then there are thugs who destroy property. I saw Floyd’s brother on television asking people not to do that kind of stuff, ‘because it doesn’t help.’”