HICKORY, N.C.— Hundreds of demonstrators gathered near Hickory City Hall on June 6 to protest police brutality after the deaths of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor. Floyd was pinned to the ground and killed by a Minneapolis police officer. Taylor was killed after police entered her Louisville, Kentucky residence and shot her eight times.

The event was planned by Hickory residents Daria Jackson,Tyler Conley and Lakeisha Ross-Johnson as well as the local activist group Love is a Verb. 

Ross-Johnson, who spoke at the event, said that it only took a few phone calls to put the event together.

“Daria pulled this together in a week, I believe. Our community is very close-knit. We work together very well,” said Ross-Johnson.

Both Ross-Johnson and Jackson serve as members of the Community Relations council in Hickory; an organization focusing on promoting positive relationships within the Hickory community. All of the Community Relations council members were also in attendance at the event. 

This was the first protest to occur in Hickory during the recent surge of demonstrations across the country against police brutality following the deaths of Floyd and Taylor.

Among the demonstrator in Hickory was Stewart Mitchell, a white Elon University junior. Mitchell said it's everyone's duty to attend protests.

“As a white student, I think those among my demographic have a moral obligation to use their privilege in times like these,” Mitchell said.“Protesting is probably the easiest and most common way to do this in the present moment, and for days to come ... I think we should be donating to the countless funds … and educating [ourselves] with anti-racist materials.”

Mitchell has lived in Hickory his entire life, and has only seen one event similar to this: a March For Our Lives protest led by students against gun violence. 

No violence broke out during this demonstration in Hickory. The speakers' messages of community were amplified by a speaker system. No one chanted during any of the speeches and instead only interjected with applause. All of the speakers focused on how the demonstration in Hickory was a community coming together. 

“There is no community without communion and unity,” Jackson said.

One of the speakers was Hickory City Councilman David Williams. Williams is the only black councilman out of nine in Hickory.

“When we leave here, we got to keep the change going,” said Williams. 

During the protest, many of the demonstrators kneeled and had a moment of silence for eight minutes and 46 seconds — the same amount of time Floyd was pinned to the ground and killed by former police officer Derek Chauvin.

Those who were unable to kneel rose their fist in solidarity.

While kneeling, an unknown man exclaimed “all lives matter.” The crowd immediately began chanting “Black lives matter,” in response. Jackson reminded the demonstrators of the moment, and within a few minutes, the crowd returned to silence.

Parts of the road were blocked off by police and firemen to ensure the safety of the demonstrators. First-aid and water stations were set up around the city block designated for the gathering. These stations also doubled as voter registration booths.

Many of the supplies were donated by local churches and groups, with volunteers from the NAACP and other organizations.