AUXVASSE, Mo. — Around 35 protesters gathered Friday night in Auxvasse to demand the removal of Police Chief Kevin Suedmeyer.
Aside from a few minutes of heated words between protesters and a small group of Suedmeyer's supporters, the protest was peaceful.
Earlier this month, Suedmeyer was placed on administrative leave for a single day following a resident's 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 a police officer 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 in order to "clean the gene pool," and 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.
The resident's 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.
The protesters gathered on the sidewalk next to the Auxvasse Elementary School and took turns introducing themselves and speaking. About half were residents of Callaway County, including a handful who lived in Auxvasse. The rest were largely from nearby Columbia.
David Davis straddled both groups — a Black man, he grew up in Auxvasse but later moved to Columbia. A child of the 60s, he said the civil rights movement largely passed the town by. Seeing a national movement reach his own hometown surprised him, he said.
"Our town used to be friendly for everyone, then we degraded," he said. "I wish more people from Auxvasse were out here. It's tragic."
Auxvasse resident Melanie Soptick said she decided to participate because she has a mixed-race daughter and niece.
"I don't think I should pay taxes for police who don't want to protect all of us," she said.
Another participant, Marilyn Calbert, traveled from Columbia with her white friend from an interracial book club. She said she participated in her first protest at age 4, when people across the nation marched in support of those participating in lunch-counter sit-ins. It was discouraging to still be marching for her rights decades later, she said.
"I think what happened is, during the 60s, those were for better working conditions and pay — it was to be equal rather than being separate and equal," she said. A string of assassinations of movement leaders, including Malcolm X and Martin Luther King Jr., "froze the civil rights movement," she continued.
"Now, people are tired of turning on the news and seeing attacks on Americans (by police)," Calbert added.
North Ward Alderman Danielle Huddleston joined the group of protesters. She was one of two aldermen who voted against Suedmeyer's reinstatement.
"I voted what I believe to be true: Right is right, and wrong is wrong," she said. "I don't think that what's going on in this community is right. And if I'm the only one here to represent this city, I'm the only one here. I want you to know that not everyone in this town thinks wrong."
Webster Davis, a member of the Fulton NAACP, also spoke. He reminded the crowd Auxvasse has been the site of unity between disparate groups in the past.
"In our heartfelt Central Missouri community, where the Sons of Confederate Veterans have paid for grave makers for African American soldiers of the Civil War and a member of the NAACP has donated books to the Sons of the Confederate Veterans, where others have cared for an African American cemetery and refused payment citing the Lord's work — we had put our faith in our police chief to uphold the oath he swore when he took office," he said. "However, it's become apparent from his own comments that he will not protect the community he swore to protect if citizens choose to express their own right to protest."
Turner noted she isn't against all police.
"I have friends who are officers," she said. "I know there are officers out there who are given a bad name by people like (Suedmeyer)."
Suedmeyer was not on duty Friday night, as City Supervisor Mike Bertschinger promised Wednesday. Instead, members of the Callaway County Sheriff's Office and Fulton Police Department blocked traffic and escorted protesters as they walked the few blocks to downtown Auxvasse.
They also stood between the protesters and more than a dozen of Suedmeyer's supporters who had gathered in front of the Auxvasse Bar and Grill and the Sons of the Confederate Veterans building, across the street from Auxvasse City Hall. The group included Bret Barnes, one of Auxvasse's South Ward aldermen.
One of the men in front of the Sons of Confederate Veterans building said they were there to protect the structure, which had been boarded up ahead of the protest, but he declined to give further comment.
Pausing in front of the hall, Turner read aloud a few of Suedmeyer's posts. When she finished the sentence about people standing in the road deserving to be run over, several of the counter-protesters clapped. They later chanted "Save our chief" and "Trump 2020," and chastised protesters for swearing. One in the crowd yelled, "This isn't your town."
Multiple counter-protesters declined to comment to a reporter.
Turner said this Friday's protest won't be the end of her efforts. Earlier this week, she launched a Change.org protest calling for Suedmeyer's removal, which has since gathered around 50 signatures. She said she's also working with the NAACP to pursue other avenues for pushing for change.