Members of Louisiana chapters of the National Action Network, New Black Panthers and National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, as well as POWER, Inc. of Baton Rouge and the Foot Soldiers for Justice attended the march.
Community activist and retired teacher Clifton Lemelle led the march down Martin Luther King Drive to Maple Avenue, exhorting others to join in.
As the march traveled north on South Second Street, marchers shouted, “No Justice, No Peace!” and “What do we want?” “Justice!” “When do we want it?” “Now!” on their way to finish at Eunice City Hall, where their numbers had increased to over 40.
Police provided an escort.
At City Hall, the march gave way to speakers from the various organizations involved, urging a change in law enforcement leadership, in Eunice and elsewhere.
Local activist and local NAN president George Fisher said that he has heard from prisoners about abuses within the jail, overcrowding, lack of food and water, a lack of working toilets, and prisoners being deprived of needed medications and humiliated in front of their families by being held in a pink room.
“It comes from the chief being a very bad chief and most of his officers should be put in jail,” Fisher said.
Fisher said that NAN founder Reverend Al Sharpton is aware of unfolding events. “He has his eye on Eunice,” Fisher said.
The march grew out of an incident at a post-trail ride party at Club Escalade on June X, during which Dies closed the club down.
Dies said the party was overcrowded and had gotten out of hand; Fisher, who owns the club, said the shutdown was racially-motivated harassment.
Reverend Raymond Brown, affiliated with the New Black Panther movement, said “Dies is in total violation of civil and human rights,” adding that the purpose of the march was to bring attention to allegations of racial profiling of minorities in the community.
Brown said that Dies was “in cahoots” with certain judges, to ensure convictions and stiffer penalties for minorities.
“Mr. Dies, if you do not make this community safe and respect the people, we will organize our own militia and protect the community,” said Brown, who referred to Dies as a racist, said the Second Amendment guarantees the right to form a militia.
Ron Ceasar of POWER, Inc. said, “We’re putting the state of Louisiana on notice that it’s a new day.”
“We’re demanding his (Dies’) immediate resignation. If we don’t get that today, guess what? We’ll be back here tomorrow,” Ceasar said.
Ceasar said this isn’t just about the small group in attendance. “This is a community thing, and we all need to work together; black, white, red, brown, yellow. All of us.”
Lemelle noted the turnout was low, but pointed out that Jesus Christ started with only 12 disciples.
Lemelle urged the formation of a citizen’s committee to review police actions, and urged those dealing with police to never run away, and always take down the names of officers they deal with.
Pastor Ameal Jones, Sr., president of the Central Louisiana branch of the NAACP, said, “We are speaking for those who cannot speak for themselves. Behind your bars are a community; our sons, our daughters, or nieces, or nephews; they are our brothers and sisters...it is our moral duty to respect the human cause.”
“We have allowed the Devil to take over our community,” Jones said, adding, “We’re putting the Devil on notice; we have come to tear your kingdom down.”
Dies observed the march from a distance, but left before it reached City Hall, saying he wished to ensure that marchers’ rights to free speech and assembly were not distrupted.
“Everyone has the same right to march in protest or in favor of something. People have a right to voice their opinion, and we’re going to make sure they have the opportunity to so,” Dies said, noting the police escort. “We treat everyone by the same rules. We treat them with respect. We’re here as a professional law enforcement, and we’re going to treat everyone with respect and dignity.”
Dies denied profiling minorities, saying most police action is in response to complaints received by the department, and traffic stops occur when officers see violations, regardless of the driver’s race.
Dies also denied allegations of abuse and mistreatment, saying prisoners are not denied food and water, and that a recent problem with the toilets was quickly fixed by the plumber.
Dies said the jail does get overcrowded at times, particularly on weekends, before prisoners can bond out or be transferred, but space is made available by using holding cells.
The alternative, Dies said, would be to put criminals back on the street.