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A crowd of 500 people peacefully protested on and around the Piatt County courthouse square in Monticello Saturday, using homegrown speakers to drive home a message of equality for all.

“It is not enough to put a sign in your front yard that says you are inclusive,” said Monticello resident Melina Thompson, who is biracial and outlined racism she has experienced since moving to Monticello 11 years ago, including a slur delivered by kids walking by her home, and a grocery store encounter when she was asked, “what are you?”

“We must begin to demand inclusivity from our neighbors. This may sound trite, but people of color did not create racism, and we cannot and will not and should not be expected to dismantle the systemic racist power structure that has led to the anger being played out on Twitter,” added Thompson.

While noting her Piatt County residency she also noted there is plenty  of work still to be done.

“It’s not the people, it’s the system,” she said, which received some of the largest applause of the day.

Vinnie Strack, another MHS grad, gave a unique perspective of his current residence in the Minneapolis-St. Paul area, where reaction to the death of George Floyd at the hands of a police officer has helped launch violent protests.

“For the last 10 days, I’ve heard non-stop police sirens to the point that they’ve just become white noise,” said Strack. “The Twin Cities have been under siege. Our people are exhausted, physically and emotionally.”

He noted that, amid the violence, there are  also stories of people gathering each morning to clean graffiti and deliver groceries to those in need, along with a number of peaceful protests.

“We must do more,” added Strack. “Sometimes we need to have the hard conversation to get on the right path. Today, for this community, I recognize this is a hard conversation, but its time we get on that right path.”

MHS football coach Cully Welter also spoke, noting that his own empathy, “while well-intentioned, is not enough. At the very least I need to vocalize my contempt for the injustice of black people as well as express a desire to see equal justice. And even if I do not have the perfect words or a great deal of eloquence on the subject, even if my attempts to understand may come across a uninformed, acknowledging my support is at least a step.”

After the rally on the courthouse square, the crowd raised their signs, began chanting, and marched around the downtown business district before concluding the rally back near the courthouse.

The protest was the brainchild of Ellie Carpenter, another MHS graduate who is now a senior majoring in history at the University of Illinois. She planned it quickly, as the idea came to her on Tuesday to hold the Saturday protest.

She thought the turnout and behavior of the crowd spoke well for her home town.

“I am honestly speechless at the outpouring of support this community has shown today,” said Carpenter. “It says a lot about the community, about what we honestly believe in. I think it shows everyone in Monticello that we have a voice, and now that we have a platform for that voice we are going to keep using it.”

She said she would continue the advocacy effort by providing resources online, including places were donations can be made to various causes and the contact information for government representatives.

There were few disruptions of the gathering, the longest being to attend to a medical need of one of the attenders. The sound of firecrackers close by also got the crowd’s attention, and police asked a second floor resident to turn down loud music that began blaring at one point during speeches.

Police officers from throughout Piatt County and the area were on hand at the demonstration.