KINGSLAND — A rally to protest the June 20 shooting death of an unarmed African-American man by a Kingsland Police officer was held Friday to send a message to city officials and police.
Near the end of the march, the group of more than 60 people stopped in front of City Hall, and minutes later in front of the city police department.
The Rev. Mack De’Von Knight, pastor of Refreshing Oasis Church, helped organize the rally. Speaking into a megaphone, he demanded the resignations of Police Chief Darryl Griffis, and longtime Mayor Ken Smith, who is an African-American.
“This isn’t personal, this is business. Your job is to serve people, not gun down people,” Knight said.
More than 60 people attended the rally, which started at Kingsland Veteran’s Park, across from the city police department. They marched through downtown, stopping at the site several blocks from City Hall where Tony Green was shot eight times while running from officer Zechariah Presley after Presley initiated a traffic stop.
It’s unclear why Presley stopped Green’s vehicle or why he ran from the officer.
During a meeting at City Hall on Monday, Smith acknowledged he had met with residents who complained about Presley harassing them.
Presley was arrested several days after the shooting and charged with voluntary manslaughter and violation of his oath of office. He is currently held in the Glynn County Detention Center awaiting a preliminary hearing scheduled before a Superior Court judge Tuesday at the Camden County Courthouse in Woodbine, where it’s expected lawyers will ask a judge to grant bond.
During the march, protesters stopped at site where Green died, where a memorial with crosses and wreaths has been set up. They held a 33-second moment of silence to pay tribute to each year of Green’s life. They resumed the march, chanting “no justice, no peace.”
One of the marchers, Vernador Baker, said Green’s death was a shock to the community. At the same time, he said the shooting death wasn’t unexpected because there has been an underlying tension between police and residents in the African-American community for decades.
“We’re here to let the world know,” he said. “I believe he ran because he was afraid for his life.”
Baker was among dozens who attended a city council meeting Monday. He criticized city officials for their lack of candor when residents asked why Presley was hired as a police officer and wanted to know how the police department determines whether a job applicant is fit to wear a badge.
“I think their response was weak, at best,” he said.
During the march, others called for Oprah Winfrey to show up and take back the designation the city got several years ago as “Love Town USA.”
“City of Kingsland, you should be ashamed of yourselves,” Knight said. “This is not Love Town USA, this is good-old-boy system USA. We are the people and we demand a statement by the city.”
James Evan Muhammed, another marcher, said the shooting is national news and called Presley an “overzealous, racist” officer.
“Cops have gotten comfortable shooting first and asking questions later,” he said.
Nelson Cummings marched as well. He is a longtime leader in the African-American community and an organizer of a program to help people, black and white, who have been released from prison find jobs. Cummings said Presley should have been charged with murder, instead of manslaughter, because Green was shot so many times in the back while fleeing.
“I think the charge by the District Attorney’s office is erroneous,” he said. “It was murder. That’s all it could be.”
He asked for a citizen review board to approve the hiring of new officers in the police department. Cummings said this won’t be the last rally residents hold.
“City officials believe the longer they wait, the less effective we will be,” he said. “This is not a spontaneous effort. This is an age-old problem.”