AUXVASSE, Mo. — According to the organizer of a protest planned for Friday in Auxvasse, Police Chief Kevin Suedmeyer needs to go.
"I want the resignation of the chief of police, flat-out," organizer Aleigha Turner said Tuesday. "He does not protect the full community, and he now gets to pick and choose who he protects and when he protects. It's not right."
Turner lives in Auxvasse and previously organized the June 6 Black Lives Matters march in Fulton. The march is scheduled to begin at 6 p.m. Friday in front of Auxvasse Elementary School, then process through downtown to end at Auxvasse City Hall.
"I want to note that we are ready for a peaceful resolution to this issue," Turner said. "We're not targeting the community; we're not out to get people because of this. But we want our justice and we want it to be known that wrong is wrong and right is right."
Turner said she's currently seeking a megaphone. Donations are welcome and will be used to purchase water and snacks for protesters, as well as to print large-scale posters of Suedmeyer's posts that started the controversy. To learn more about the planned protest or how to donate, visit bit.ly/2By9JtQ.
Earlier this month, Suedmeyer was placed on administrative leave for a single day following a citizen complaint about inflammatory public Facebook posts he made. The posts center around the national protests that erupted following the death of George Floyd, a Black Minneapolis man who died after police knelt on his neck in late May.
In one exchange, Suedmeyer stated that "dumb a**" who's standing in the road deserves to be run over, and that he "wouldn't stop for" any he saw.
"Though if they insist — I'll identify myself — they can back down or get shot. I am bull**** intolerant," Suedmeyer added.
Auxvasse's own Code of Ordinances (Sec. 26-1) bans use of excessive force by law enforcement agencies against "any individual engaged in nonviolent civil rights demonstrations."
The citizen complaint was submitted June 10. Suedmeyer's page disappeared from Facebook on the morning of June 11, shortly after the Fulton Sun called the city for comment. The Board of Aldermen and Mayor Tom Henage met at 4 p.m. June 11; aldermen voted to place Suedmeyer on leave pending an investigation. The next day, at 4 p.m., Alderman Bret Barnes and Gary Westerman, plus Henage, voted to reinstate Suedmeyer with a verbal warning.
"I knew Auxvasse needed a march when the chief of police was reinstated after (24) hours with no evidence being reviewed during his 'investigation,' and he had a slap on the wrist for these comments," Turner said. "(City officials and Suedmeyer have) known each other for years and years, served for the same city, it's like a brotherhood — they're not going to try to get rid of their own person, no matter his views."
Henage claimed via the city's attorney the city reviewed Suedmeyer's social media posts during their investigation; however, Suedmeyer's page had already been deleted before it began. Henage also said they "reviewed any prior complaints," though in response to a records request Auxvasse City Clerk Sandy Lavy said the city had received no complaints regarding Suedmeyer.
Turner plans to meet with Henage this morning ahead of the planned protest.
"I want to question and see if he thinks these comments are okay and does he feel (Suedmeyer has) violated his oath to protect the people of Auxvasse," she said.
She also plans to ask Callaway County Sheriff Clay Chism to provide deputies to oversee the protest. She urged Auxvasse's police to "stick to what's right" and not be pulled into a "brotherhood of hate."
Turner said she expects this protest to be different in tone than the June 6 march in Fulton.
"I think it's going to be smaller than Fulton's but still enough to get our point across, bring up the awareness," she said. "I feel there's going to be backlash from the opposite side — people who aren't educated in the situation that's going on today, that hear about a protest and immediately think the worst of it."
In fact, the backlash has already started, she said.
"I was walking to my car on June 19, Freedom Day, and someone rolled down their window to yell 'Eff you, n-word,'" she said. "Before that, I had never had an experience (like that) in Auxvasse, but since coming out about this (I have)."
Turner suggested participants may want to leave children at home, in case counter-protesters are present and get out of hand.
Board of aldermen member Danielle Huddleston, who voted against Suedmeyer's reinstatement and plans to participate in the march, said she's also come under fire.
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"People that are freaking out and saying it's people from outside of community will come in and destroy it," she said. "It's going to be peaceful; nobody's anticipating anything else."
She said she's received threats from supporters of Suedmeyer against herself, her family and her home since speaking out.
"Hopefully no one breaks any windows because I've been told my house will be torched," Huddleston added. "I feel like everyone in Auxvasse is going to be trigger-happy Friday because of all of this gossip and fear. But it's fear because you're not educated. People aren't listening to learn, they're listening to respond."
In speaking with Turner, Huddleston said, she's learned a lot about how racist systems affect the Black community. She said she admires and relates to Turner's drive to fight for what's right — as a parent to two children with developmental disabilities, Huddleston used to fighting on their behalf in systems stacked against them.
"I'm there to support (the Black Lives Matter) cause," Huddleston said. "It'd be hypocritical to say that all lives matter when that doesn't include everyone — that doesn't include Black lives."
Suedmeyer's reinstatement reflects poorly on the town as a whole, Huddleston added.
"If I was a Black person and I knew this was going on in our community, I would not feel comfortable," she said. "If I'd researched where to move to and this popped up, I would not feel comfortable. If I had children who would be around in the community, I would not feel comfortable."