HUNTSVILLE, Ala. – The head of the Alabama NAACP said law enforcement talked them out of having their rally at the Madison County Courthouse Wednesday, and he believes the outcome would have been different if they had been allowed there.
Benard Simelton, president of the Alabama State Conference of the NAACP, said in a news conference Thursday afternoon that police convinced them to hold their protest at Big Spring Park East instead of on the courthouse steps.
Simelton said he believes the situation would not have escalated Wednesday evening if NAACP leadership had been there.
“As we told the chief of police this afternoon, we believe that if the NAACP had been allowed to control the march up around the courthouse and have some final words up there, then we would have been able to dismiss the entire event without any provocation from the people that were in the audience,” Simelton said.
The NAACP initially wanted to march around the courthouse after its protest in Big Spring Park East, Simelton said, but that wasn’t on the group’s permit when they received it Tuesday. Simelton said he believes that’s because law enforcement wanted to “dominate and control” what was going on.
“Now that I’ve had time to reflect, we kind of believe when police asked us to move from the courthouse to Big Spring Park, that was intentional so they would not have anyone at the courthouse,” he said.
After the NAACP rally ended at 6:30 p.m., hundreds of people marched to the square nearby and continued their protest. Huntsville police said they warned people to leave for an hour and a half before they used gas, pepper spray and rubber bullets to disperse the people who stayed.
Police arrested 24 people and said two officers had minor head injuries. Police Chief Mark McMurray said Thursday morning they believe people from out of town instigated the escalation following the conclusion of the NAACP protest.
Simelton said the NAACP doesn’t support “infiltrators” trying to stir unrest, but he also said he thought the police could have used better tactics to disperse people.
“I understand if you’re given an order you must obey it,” he said. “But by the same token, I think they have to understand the times we’re in. People are frustrated. They want to express themselves.”
The NAACP shared a copy of the permit for the event.
Note: The part of the permit that is blocked out contains an address and phone numbers