UPDATED: Protestors hold rally seeking answers for teen’s family
Protestors rallied Saturday to demand answers and accountability in the arrest of Ulysses Wilkerson III, a 17-year-old severely injured during the encounter with Troy Police.
“What transpired to this young man was wrong,” said Andrea Anderson, a Troy resident. “… The way this child was beaten was wrong.”
The incident began shortly before midnight on Dec. 23, when police spotted Wilkerson walking near a downtown business. Wilkerson fled from officers and when captured refused to comply with their commands, leading to the use of force during the incident, according to police.
The encounter sent Wilkerson to the hospital, and images of his bloodied and swollen face quickly circulated on social media. His family, who held a press conference on Friday, said he may require surgery to repair his fractured eye socket.
Wilkerson was charged with obstruction of governmental operations and resisting arrest, both misdemeanors.
Representatives of nearly a dozen organizations, from Black Lives Matter groups in Montgomery and Birmingham to a local elected official, spoke at the two-hour rally on Saturday.
Kenneth Glasgow, a rally organizer who had previously advocated for the family, delivered an ultimatum to Troy officials on behalf of the protestors. He demanded police make public video footage of the arrest and take disciplinary action against the officers involved in the incident, with many other speakers and protestors calling for the firing and arrest of at least one officer. The officer involved in the incident has been placed on leave, according to Mayor Jason Reeves.
Glasgow said if the family does not have answers by Friday he would call a “national rally” in Troy and block U.S. Highway 231.
“The way to avoid that is to just give the family the answers they’re looking for,” Glasgow said.
Reeves, who did not attend the rally, declined to comment on the protestors’ demands.
He released a statement on Friday urging calm as the Alabama Law Enforcement Agency’s independent investigation into the incident continues. “I thought it was important for the state to review the incident and give an independent assessment of the matter. I want to stress to our community that we all must let the independent review process take its course, and l ask for your patience during the investigation by SBI. Regardless of the outcome, I want our citizens to know that I will diligently work to make sure the public is informed. I love this city and l am concerned about the welfare of all our citizens,” Reeves said.
At the center of the demands is reported body camera footage of the incident. District Attorney Tom Anderson confirmed Friday that there is both audio and video recording of the incident. “I only know of one officer that was directly involved that did not have body cam video,” Anderson said. He declined to comment further until the investigation is complete.
Karen Jones of the Montgomery chapter of Black Lives Matter, one of approximately 10 speakers, called for boycotts of local businesses in support of the family and in an effort to force officials to be accountable and release the footage.
“We need to put a beating on the economy,” Jones said. “Shut it down. Only support businesses if they come out and support you … The Troy motto is ‘A wonderful place to live.’ I beg to differ.”
Shakir Muhammad, representing the Nation of Islam, said members of the community need to be able to grieve in their own ways. “Whatever you feel, you feel that,” Muhammad said. “No one can tell you how to grieve.”
He called for the protestors to take action in response to the incident.
“Turn your energy toward changing this city,” Muhammad said. “If you want to change this society, change it… This brother’s beating will not go in vain. It will not go in vain if you stand up … We’re going to have to let these people in Troy know that we will not tolerate this, not just by talking … If you want justice, make justice happen.”
Two local pastors, Demetrius Cowart and Ulysses Kincey, also spoke at the rally.
“It has been said that the civil rights movement ended in the ‘50s and ‘60s,” Kincey said. “But it’s still going. We changed Alabama and changed the world in the ‘50s and ‘60s. We’re the bedrock of this movement.”
Charlie Harris, District 5 commissioner on the Pike County Commission, said the protest should have been held at the police department steps.
“Those are our steps,” Harris said. “We ought to be over there.”
Local residents who attended the rally expressed concern over the perceived police brutality and the tensions in the community.
Anderson said she felt the need to come out to the rally because she has two nephews who could have been in the same situation.
“I feel (Wilkerson) was targeted. It’s not a crime to walk at night,” Anderson said. “We’ve got to put a stop to police brutality. It really hurts that this happened in my hometown. It’s heart wrenching. It’s a sad day in Troy. All lives matter and this should have never happened.”
Corey Bigbie, a Dothan man attended school at Troy University, said the silence of city officials and the police department has broken the community’s trust.
“When the police take an oath to protect and serve, it’s for the whole community, not for them to pick and choose,” Bigbie said. “We put our trust in their hands that our best interest and well-being is going to be served. Silence on the matter a suspicious and not comforting for the family or the community and leads to more distrust.”
Bigbie, Glasgow and other protestors at the rally called out Troy police officers who were standing in the department parking lot across the street.
“I’m trying to figure out why the cops are over there and not over here,” Glasgow said. “I thought y’all were part of the community.”
Glasgow criticized local churches that he said refused to open their doors to the family for a press conference on Friday. “The flock should extend outside your congregation,” Glasgow said.
Local churches did band together Saturday morning before the rally for a prayer service that included multiple denominations, ethnicities and races.