JOHNSON CITY, Tenn. (WJHL) – Tuesday marks one year since George Floyd was killed by a Minneapolis police officer, sparking protests, outrage, and calls for police reform across the nation.
Floyd’s death also had an impact on the Tri-Cities. Protests in Johnson City shut down roads and led to conversations between government leaders and local activists.
“His death was so profound and eye-opening not only for white America but black America as well. Some parts of black America were like, ‘Hey, we’ve been telling you,'” said Washington Co./Johnson City NAACP President Tavia Sillmon. “Other parts who are kind of removed from that were like, ‘Oh my god is this still happening?’ I was one of those people.”
There have been calls for an equity and diversity board in the Johnson City government. No plans have been announced so far.
“We’re not having enough of those conversations we need to have those conversations in businesses as well,” Sillmon said. “We’ve begun to have some in our local government but not enough so we are continuing to work with our local government to try to bring change about for this entire region.”
Sillmon says many believe the Tri-Cities doesn’t have racial inequality.
“Because we are in Tri-Cities, Johnson City and we’re not in a city where there are millions of people that this type of thing is not happening. It’s happening in stores, it’s happening in businesses,” Sillmon said. “It’s happening not only with the police but an everyday occurrences and events. It’s happening in our schools.”
At ETSU, where the basketball team’s decision to kneel in protest of racial inequity led to controversy and the departure of the coach, the school’s president formed a task force. So far, a spokesman said the task force has met once.
“Until we can talk to one another and hear the story of what goes on in the black person’s mind and emotionally because of how they’re treated, we won’t get anywhere,” said Edward Wolff, the host of Black/White Dialogue, a monthly online conversation about race. “I have gotten to know many of the black community and they’re like us white people. There are weaknesses and strengths but their perseverance… 400 years is incredible and that inspires me.”
Those involved say conversations and understanding need to continue beyond this year.
No one from Johnson City was available to talk about the Equity Board Tuesday night. ETSU says their committee will work on its initiatives more during the fall semester.