WBOI is featuring voices of people who attended the protests this past weekend in downtown Fort Wayne.
Saturday’s protests in downtown Fort Wayne started on a peaceful note. Various demonstrators spoke earlier in the afternoon, some representing their faith communities. WBOI’s Katy Anderson spoke with Sister Elizabeth Oppel of the Church of God in Warsaw about why her congregation was participating in the protests.
KATY ANDERSON: What made you want to come out here today?
SISTER ELIZABETH OPPEL: Well, I’m very tired of oppression, tired of the system, and I think that it works the best at keeping us apart so I wanted to show that I’m standing for this cause.
ANDERSON: During your speech I heard you mention that you’ve gone to multiple protests in the past and this is a part of your life. Can you talk about why social justice is so important to you?
OPPEL: I’m tired of the system and so I’ve been burdened to go around [and] protest it but do more than protest it. I want to find others that can link arms and fight together. I don’t mean physically fight necessarily, but fight together with the common cause because like I said in my speech if we stand together, we can win. And that’s the only way. But the system has done a good job at separating us based on color, religion, even some beliefs that are not even important. I want to be sure that everybody knows if we come together on one thing, even if its racism, we can win.
ANDERSON: It looks like you have a large group here today. Do you know how many people from your congregation are here?
OPPEL: I would say there’s probably 50-100, but I’m not for sure. I didn’t count.
ANDERSON: Why do you think it’s important to have different faith communities here today?
OPPEL: I think it’s important for us all again going back to realize that there are some things that we just stand for because we’re human. It’s not based on our faith or religion. It’s because we’re humanity and everyone deserves certain rights no matter where they’re coming from. It’s time for us to not just march and go to rallies but to take action, find our leaders, and come together.
While Saturday’s protests started on a more uplifting note, the tone shifted quickly around 5 p.m. after protesters blocked the intersection of Clinton and Main, and police began deploying the use of tear gas, pepper spray, and batons.
Shortly after that escalation, Katy Anderson crossed paths with protesters Steven Richardson and Mark Allen Bradley. Mark was helping Steven douse his face with milk after being pepper sprayed by an officer at close range. The two had never met before, but soon realized they had both served in the military. Here’s their exchange. A warning, some of the audio may be too intense for some listeners.
STEVEN RICHARDSON: Steven Richardson, I was a corporal in the United States Marine Corps. I served probably for six years.
MARK ALLEN BRADLEY: That’s f—d up. I’m sorry that happened to you.
RICHARDSON: I was on my knees f—ing away from the police. Cop walked up, shoved it point blank it my face and f-ing sprayed.
BRADLEY: I’m so sorry. Do you need anything else?
RICHARDSON: No thank you, I appreciate it.
BRADLEY: Again, I’m so sorry.
RICHARDSON: It’s disgusting.
BRADLEY: We didn’t sign up for this.
RICHARDSON: Dude walked up to me. I told him I’m a Marine Corps veteran, I didn’t fight for this. He said you’re a p—y and sprayed me in my face. Multiple tours, and this is how I get treated when I come home. Spraying me in the face because I kneeled and said that I didn’t want to have anything to do with the violence.
BRADLEY: My name is Mark Allen Bradley. I was a sergeant in the United States Army for ten years. I didn’t go to combat and come home for my brothers and sisters to be persecuted and be oppressed. I’m tired of seeing black people getting murdered in the streets and it going unanswered. It’s time for a change. We showed up to peacefully protest and they brought guns. They shot at us. They tear gassed us. For what, because we have cardboard signs? How is that fair? They forget they work for us, not the other way around.