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Crowd of 2,000 marches down Bluemont in show of solidarity with nationwide protests

With their fists and signs held up high, two thousand protesters heard their chants echo down the Bluemont Avenue corridor Tuesday evening.

Their shadows preceded them on the hot asphalt as they marched east toward Juliette, the setting sun behind them. Bike-mounted Riley County Police Department officers cleared the eastbound lanes for them, while westward cars honked in support of the approximately 2,000 protesters between Aggieville and Juliette Avenue along Bluemont. RCPD estimated the size of the crowd.

In the crowd that stretched across several blocks, chants broke out separately and sporadically, but they carried the same theme — enough was enough, they said, and police brutality must end. The crowd ran through a long list of black American names who have been victims of police violence.

But the crowd particularly focused on George Floyd, the latest member of that list. His death last week sparked the past several days of intense and occasionally violent protests and police responses in cities across the U.S.

The local protest — Manhattan’s largest in many years — remained peaceful, although a man was arrested as the protest was winding down and charged with criminal threat after allegedly saying he would “kill the n****rs” at the protest.

At a brief ceremony before the march at Triangle Park, JahVelle Rhone, associate pastor at Manhattan Christian Fellowship Church, said he was not excited to be at the protest, but it was a necessary response to the injustices black Americans still face a half century after the civil rights movement.

“What I’m here for today is to unite us all under common ground,” he said in a speech to the crowd. “I’m not here for violence. I’m not here for looting. I’m not here for rioting. I can quote Martin Luther King all day, but some of y’all have been quoting Martin Luther King as if he’s Santa Claus. And that’s just not the case,” he said, pointing out that even King was assassinated for his political activism.

“I believe in the foundation of equality,” he continued. “I believe in the sanctity of human life, and I believe and stand against police brutality, and I will continue to stand against police brutality and injustice and the murder of black people. Until we can say black lives matter, then we still have a problem in our system. Whether it be morally or unjustly, we still have a problem.”

Teresa Parks, one of the protest’s organizers, said it struck a personal note when she saw Ahmaud Arbery’s death video on the news. Arbery, who was unarmed and jogging down the street, was shot to death in Georgia in February by vigilantes who claimed they suspected Arbery was burglarizing neighborhood homes. Parks said she worried for her own children, who could easily have been in the same situation.

But then she saw Floyd’s death video, and how he called for his mother with his dying breaths.

“Every mother in America, if your heart did not break when you saw that, you need to fix your spirit,” she said. “I watched that man’s life leave his eyes, and I thought, ‘What if that was my son?’”

She said she never wants to see any of her or other parents’ children in the same situation.

“This ain’t political, okay? If you’re a person, this should matter to you,” she said. “If you’ve got breath in your body and you can breathe, and he couldn’t, (this should matter to you).”

Before the protest, Parks met and spoke with RCPD director Dennis Butler, who attended and spoke at the protest. He choked up as he spoke about seeing George Floyd’s death, and that in his 40-year career as a police officer, he’s always been one to call out injustice or abuse of power.

Butler said that what happened to George Floyd was a crime, and that he and the other three officers who were involved in his death should be held accountable. Only then can police departments like RCPD ever hold any legitimacy with the public.

Butler asked the public to give the police department a chance to earn and keep their trust.

“We’re not what you have seen on the news,” he said. “That’s not who I am, that’s not who these officers are. They are here to serve you, and I am here to make sure they do it the right way. That’s what I ask you to believe.”

Several protesters said they were impressed by the turnout, and that they hoped to keep the momentum in speaking out against police brutality.

“We are not as divided as I maybe thought we were,” said Mallory Ferguson, a recently graduated K-State student. “We can come together when it really matters. I feel like here, the police have been very welcoming of the protests and willing to help us out. We can protest in peace.”

Tosha Sampson-Choma, an English professor at K-State, said she felt reassured by diversity of the crowd who came to support the cause.

“It shows that we’re all in solidarity in supporting and fighting against the violence against African-Americans,” she said. “I feel really supported and empowered by this. It reassures that people within my community see me, they hear my concerns and they’re willing to stand up with me.”

Chris Hobbs, a real estate agent, said even though Manhattan is a smaller community than some other cities where protests have made national news, he said the large turnout showed the power of protesting and can help inspire younger children.

“No matter your race, black lives matter, but we do have a lot of black lives that do matter but are gone,” he said. “It’s good to see everyone come together and protest and show they care. Everyone needs to have a voice, and for some of us who brought their kids, we want to show them that no matter what, speak up.”

RCPD assistant director Kurt Moldrup said he was pleased with the atmosphere at the protest, and he was inspired by the relationship the police department has been able to maintain with the community in his 35 years as an officer.

He said he’s hopeful this protest could be the start of something bigger.

“This is a protest, and that’s good, but until it becomes a movement, it doesn’t do any good,” Moldrup said. “A protest is a one-time event, but a movement keeps it going. That’s what I hope, that this protest and all of the other things that occur become a movement.”

Man arrested after allegedly hurling slur, threatening protesters Tuesday

A Manhattan man was arrested Tuesday evening and charged with criminal threat after he allegedly threatened groups of protesters leaving a rally at Triangle Park.

Ralph Walters, 65, was arrested and charged with making a criminal threat in the 1300 block of Fremont Street at 8:15 p.m. He remained confined in Riley County Jail as of Tuesday night.

Witnesses told The Mercury that Walters used the N-word against a group of protesters, who were protesting police brutality against African Americans and specifically the killing of George Floyd in Minnesota in late May.

Walters had been insulting the crowd on the first leg of the march, but doubled down and became more threatening as the protesters began to leave the park, said Devin Peterson, who was protesting at the event.

“He threatened to kill us three times,” she said. “He called us n****rs three times, and then finally, the police showed up.”

Peterson said Walters also called Floyd a “n****r” and a “porch monkey.”

“And I definitely believe we got justice when he was arrested and taken away,” she said. “It was a small victory but it felt amazing seeing someone who thinks they’re high and mighty be torn down like that.”

Approximately 2,000 people attended the protest, which started in Triangle Park.

Walters was out on $3,000 bond as of Wednesday morning.

RCPD director vows to fire, arrest officer if battery allegation is true

Riley County Police Department Director Dennis Butler said at a protest and march Tuesday he would fire or arrest any of the department’s officers if they were proven to have battered a resident.

Two thousand people gathered and marched in central Manhattan to protest police brutality and the killings of black Americans at the hands of police. In remarks to the crowd, Butler also spoke about an alleged incident that happened early Monday morning and holding the local police force accountable.

A 27-year-old Manhattan man approached an RCPD officer around 10:45 a.m. Monday saying an unidentified officer had battered him outside his home on 15th and Humboldt around 3:30 a.m.

RCPD officials heard of the report within the hour and called the Kansas Bureau of Investigations shortly after to independently investigate the incident.

“For us to be effective and to have your confidence, you have to believe that when we go out and take an official action, that it’s justified,” Butler said. “That we did it because someone broke the law and we have sworn to uphold the law and protect you. But if we do it in a way that you find abusive, heavy-handed, disingenuous, or for all the wrong reasons, then the legitimacy that we have, in terms of you feeling that we’re a legitimate protector of you, evaporates, and it’s gone.”

Officials have not released the name of the officer who allegedly battered the Puerto Rican man, Butler said, because the person who made the report did not give a name or description of the officer.

“If we have a police officer who should not be working here, if we have a police officer who should be charged with a crime, then that’s what happens,” Butler said. “I don’t take any joy in it, but for you to believe in us, you have to know that we’ll do the right thing, even if isn’t what others might do.”

Butler said he is letting the KBI take the lead on any investigations related to the alleged incident and that he hopes the investigation is completed soon so the findings can be shared with the public.

The investigation is ongoing, and the KBI asks that anyone with related information contact it at 1-800-KS-CRIME or online at kbi.ks.gov/sar.

Geary County posts first coronavirus death

Geary County has reported its first death from coronavirus, health department officials said Tuesday.

The patient was a 65-year-old man who had tested positive and had been a patient at Geary Community Hospital. He died Tuesday. Officials are not releasing further information on the man.

Geary County is now up to 18 confirmed cases.

“We are saddened by this death and encourage everyone to take this virus seriously by following the guidelines put out by the CDC, KDHE and the county health department,” said Tammy VonBusch, Geary County health officer, in a press release.

She said if people develop symptoms such as fever, cough or difficulty breathing, they should call their healthcare provider.

Riley County man tests positive for COVID-19; county cases up to 67

A 61-year-old Riley County man has tested positive for the coronavirus, increasing the county total to 67 cases.

The man was already in Ascension Via Christi Hospital when the test confirmed he had the virus, officials said. 

Three people are in the hospital; two have tested positive for the virus and one is under investigation for it.

Two people are on a ventilator; one is a previously confirmed case, and officials didn’t indicate whether the latest case is the other person.

Of the 67 cases, eight are active and 58 are recovered. 

The Kansas Department of Health and Environment (KDHE) reported 10,170 cases, 890 hospitalizations and 222 deaths statewide Wednesday.

That is up 159 cases, 28 hospitalizations and five deaths from Monday.

There have been 97,883 negative tests statewide.

Pottawatomie County has 29 cases and Geary County has 18, according to KDHE.

The Geary County Health Department announced Tuesday that a 65-year-old man died from coronavirus.

This is the second person in the region who has died from coronavirus-related causes.