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story.lead_photo.caption Dozens of people marched through the Brick District during Fulton's second protest this month. Photo by Olivia Garrett / Fulton Sun.

When Alan Lawson stood up in front of the Callaway County Courthouse on Friday evening to speak about systematic racism, even his clothing shared his message.

As rain drizzled and Lawson addressed a crowd of dozens, he had the words "I Can't Breathe" written across the front of his shirt. His back bore the phrase "Hands Up" along with the image of a hornet, the Fulton High School mascot.

Lawson has had the shirt since 2014. At that time, the shirt was a reference to Eric Garner, a Black man whose death at the hands of New York City police sparked protests on the matter of police brutality. Lawson designed the shirt for his daughter's basketball team.

The shirt was just as timely six years later, at Fulton's second protest inspired by the death of George Floyd, another Black man who died at the hands of police and also used the words, "I can't breathe."

"Nothing's changed — 2014 to now," Lawson said.

The evening began in Memorial Park, where a crowd of at least 30 people gathered. The event drew a smaller crowd than a similar protest earlier this month, when hundreds gathered in the same location and marched through downtown.

This second protest, organized separately by Fulton resident Kryssii Kins, coincided with Juneteenth, a holiday celebrating the end of slavery in the United States in 1865, more than two years after the Emancipation Proclamation was signed by President Abraham Lincoln.

Speakers came up to the microphone to discuss the history of Fulton and Juneteenth, as well as to discuss how racism is still alive today.

"I know a lot of y'all know Ruby Bridges," one protester said. "What freaked me out the most was she was the first African American girl, she was probably about 6 years old, she went into an all-white school — she's about 65 now. So this didn't happen 150 years ago, this literally happened in a lot of our lifetimes, in our grandparent's lifetimes. When you hear people say 'that's all in the past, that stuff isn't happening anymore,' that wasn't too long ago."

The group then marched up Nichols Street, turned right on Sixth Street and then back down Court Street to the Callaway County Courthouse, before continuing to Fulton City Hall and back to Memorial Park.

Lawson spoke of his own run-ins with the criminal justice system and law enforcement in Fulton.

"I've been in trouble, and I've dealt with police," Lawson said.

At one point, Lawson recalled a conversation he had in jail when he comforted and defended a young white man who was having a hard time.

"As he was crying, he listed off the same charges that I had," he said. "And he said, 'They're trying to give me 120 days in jail.'"

Lawson said he was facing the possibility of decades in prison for the same charges.

"These things are the little injustices that us Black Americans deal with daily," he said.

In the end, Lawson went to trial and spent six months in prison.

Lawson also told listeners about an incident that took place 22 years ago in Carver Park. Lawson remembered getting a call while he was at work telling him there was a police raid going on at the park.

"When I got to the park, there was 12 police vehicles, vans," he said. "They raided the whole park. Everybody was on the ground — kids to elderly — and the first thing I thought was, this ain't right. People should be able to come and enjoy the park."

Lawson gathered a group to march into a Fulton City Council meeting and demand change.

"The end story of it is that we went to the Justice Department, and we dealt with the situation," he said.

Lawson recalled dialogue with the Fulton Police Department and diversity training for officers. He called on Friday's protesters to think similarly.

"What I'm saying is, what is our next move?" Lawson said. "Protesting, it's a wonderful thing, but it has to go further. There has to be a plan. We have to go to the top. Y'all have to get out the vote, and we have to have a plan."

In front of Fulton City Hall, Kins mentioned Kevin Suedmeyer, the chief of the Auxvasse Police Department. Suedmeyer was briefly suspended in relation to a series of inflammatory posts on social media about protesters. Kins encouraged attendees to vote and brought attention to another protest scheduled for Friday in Auxvasse, organized by those involved with the first Fulton Black Lives Matter protest.

"Please exercise your right to vote," Kins said.

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