Helena holds community prayer vigil against racism

By NATHAN HOWELL | Special to the Reporter

HELENA – On Sunday, June 7, Helena residents and city officials came together for the “Together We Stand,” community prayer vigil in response to the death of George Floyd.

The event was held at the Helena Sports Complex and was designed to bring the community together for what was originally an “eight-minute demonstration to acknowledge George Floyd’s death and many others lost to police brutality,” according to organizer Stacee Brown.

However, the event exceeded its original purpose and became more of an hour long community meeting to discuss real issues that face the African-American community and what the solution to these problems is within Helena and society at large.

“If you can’t look at somebody you didn’t come in this room with and tell them you love them genuinely that’s a problem,” said Dwayne Thompson, associate minister of New Vision Christian Church. “This is a peaceful protest, yet the world is at a civil unrest. The inability to rest because of being tired. Actually sick and tired.”

Thompson offered that the ultimate solution to these problems was for the community to come together and love each other, while trying to understand the problems they were facing.

During the event, several residents shared their experiences of witnessing discrimination or being discriminated against and how it impacted them.

A recent Helena High School graduate , TJ Funches, described how a racial slur used against him during his childhood taught him at a young age that hate was real, and that it was still important to fight against hatred and racism, even now.

Helena Mayor Mark Hall was invited by organizers to share his thoughts on recent events, and how he views his and the city’s role in dealing with racial issues.

“The murder of George Floyd, and the murder of other innocent people is unacceptable. I was a police officer for 30 years before becoming mayor,” Hall said. “I like to think that I made a difference in people’s lives. Because black lives do matter. Black lives matter. You can’t be afraid to speak the truth. Changes have to be made across the country.”

He encouraged people to register to vote, because that is the way to affect real change in the community.

Helena Police Chief Pete Folmer spoke during the event about how he views the events that have transpired and the way police should interact with the community.

“When I saw the video of Mr. Floyd’s murder I was as outraged as anybody, because I can promise you that nobody dislikes a bad cop more than a good cop,” Folmer explained. “Anybody who knows anything about policing can look at the tactics that were used and realize that has no place in a police department.”

He continued, “you have a right to expect equitable application and enforcement of the law regardless of what your skin color is, what your race is, what your religion is, whether you have no religion or what your sexual orientation is.”

The event showed that the community was able to come together even under the incredible duress caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, and incredible unrest to talk about the issues plaguing them and try to work out solutions.