Protestors Rally Against Use of Police Dogs Outside Tuscaloosa Sheriff’s Office
Echoes of "Black lives matter" and "Justice for Derek" reverberated through the streets of downtown Tuscaloosa Friday afternoon. A group of about 20 protestors had gathered at the corner of 7th Street and Greensboro Avenue with the intent to make a statement against the use of police dogs in the city.
Organized by local community activists, the protestors held handmade signs demanding that police dogs should be pets, not weapons. After a quick prayer, using a bullhorn and a chorus of supporters behind her, organizer Deanna Reed marched the group down 7th Street toward the front of the Tuscaloosa County Sheriff's Office.
"Today is a good day to get justice," she said into her bullhorn in front of the Tuscaloosa County Sheriff's Office. "Today is a good day for the police to do the right thing ... We cannot continue to stand by and not hold the police accountable."
The outrage stems from a March 2021 incident where Derek Stokes was attacked by a TCSO K9 after being suspected of shoplifting from the Walmart on Skyland Boulevard in Tuscaloosa. Stokes spent more than a month handcuffed to a hospital bed while doctors performed five surgeries to put his arm back together.
With a disfigured arm, thousands of dollars in medical bills and a world of hurt to boot, he still has not been charged for any crimes.
The TCSO officer who released the K9 has not been identified. Reed wants that officer's name to be released and demands that they be fired.
"We just want to ask everybody to continue to pray for [Stokes'] family, pray for his healing, and we're going to pray for the police officers as well," Young said. "We're going to pray that this is put on their hearts and that the right thing is done to make sure that Mr. Stokes is vindicated."
The rally featured speakers like Lisa Young, the newest president of the NAACP's Tuscaloosa chapter, Mike Altman from the progressive activist group Tuscaloosa Action, and Lakishia Summerville, Stokes' partner.
Summerville made brief comments, voicing her gratitude for everyone who was supporting Stokes' cause. She added that this has been a difficult journey for their entire family, but affirmed that "God is first, and God is good."
The protestors demanded that the sheriff's department should assume responsibility for any debts related to Stokes' surgeries and month-long hospital stay and that the body camera footage from the incident is released.
"The only violence that happened in this entire incident was by the sheriff's department and their dog," Altman said over a chorus of honks coming from supportive motorists on Lurleen B. Wallace Boulevard. "This is the latest in a long history of failures by the sheriff's department. They failed to keep any record of COVID in their jail, they failed to take responsibility for any of the hospital bills and the suffering of Mr. Stokes. Again and again, with this sheriff's department, is the failure to do the right thing."
No one from TCSO emerged from the downtown headquarters building to speak to any members of the rally.
"We have made the commitment to show up as frequently as we need to," Reed told Sheriff Ron Abernathy through The Tuscaloosa Thread's live stream. "We're going to continue to show up, we're going to continue to make phone calls, and we're going to march, we're going to continue to pull up until you terminate the officer that released the dog in the case of Derek Stokes.
"And not just that," Reed added. "You should also release the body cam footage. If there is nothing to hide, then you shouldn't hide the footage."
Stokes' case is expected to go to a Grand Jury, who will determine whether charges will be brought against him. Stay connected here for more updates on this story as they become available.
To watch the full protest and hear the speakers' messages, check out the Facebook video below:
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