Longview police protest stays small, peaceful
Feb. 7, 2015 at 11 p.m.
A protest at the Longview Police Department that was hyped by organizers and taken seriously by local law enforcement started small and remained peaceful Saturday.
The demonstration on Cotton Street in response to the Jan. 22 officer-involved shooting <a href="http://www.news-journal.com/news/police/video-details-officers-fatal-shooting-of-longview-teen/article_c9090b73-bdab-51db-8d88-058a00432512.html" target="_blank">death of 17-year-old Kristiana Coignard</a> leveled off at about 60 people.
"I know they've got a tough job, but a 100-pound girl they can't take a baton to her ribs? And just to shoot her four times?" David Glenn of Longview asked about 10 minutes into the noon protest while members of the media still outnumbered participants. "I'm surprised there's not more people here."
Those who were there had come in sympathy for Coignard and to show Longview police their unease over the girl's death at their hands.
Coignard died while confronting three officers with a knife in the police department lobby.
"She was a very kind person," Dobin Howe, 19, said of the friend he met this past year. "She really got along with everybody that met her. She always made sure that she wasn't offending anybody."
Howe did not know why Coignard went to the police department.
"A lot of people think she was looking for help," he said.
Coignard arrived at the department on foot shortly before 6 p.m., picked up the after-hours phone and said she needed an officer, police said.
"My opinion is the girl came down there to commit suicide by cop and got what she came for," said Raymond Leveritt, crediting his attendance to curiosity. "I ain't for the militarization of police that I see happening in our country."
Police of several stripes mobilized for Saturday's event, which had been predicted on social media to draw thousands of protesters.
Officers clustered across the front of the police station behind barriers maybe 150 feet from another makeshift wall marking the nearest edge of the protest area.
Blocks away, sheriff's deputies stood behind barriers at all four corners of the Gregg County Courthouse, and east-west traffic was not allowed on Methvin and Whaley streets. The weekday metal-detection security staff also was activated for anyone visiting the jail.
Methvin and Whaley streets were reopened by 6 p.m. Sheriff's spokesman Lt. Kirk Haddix said the barricades will not return today.
Longview police declined Saturday night to issue a statement about the day's events.
Organizers said they would return to the police department at noon today for another rally.
"A 17-year-old girl did not deserve to die," Matthew Sherman of Longview said at the rally. "Maybe she's lost. Maybe she doesn't know what is going on. She needed somebody to talk to her. Why should we be (afraid) of the law? They are supposed to be here to serve and protect us."
At 19 years old, Mara Downer shares the thin, delicate features of Coignard. The Denton woman said she is losing confidence in law enforcement.
"If a cop car drives by, people feel worried and paranoid," she said.
Harvey and Sharon Blackshear of Paris arrived at the demonstration with signs supporting the police.
"We wanted them to see a face that says, 'Thank you for what you do,' " said Sharon Blackshear, who is from Longview. "We have to remember the police officers are human, too, and they have training that I'm not aware of. And they have to do what they do."
Laronda Angelo carried a sign proclaiming "Jesus heals" on one side and "Wisdom over violence" on the other.
The mother of four said she was there to support Coignard.
"I don't care what color she is, I don't care what race she is," said Angelo, who returned Saturday night to a candlelight vigil with her 11-year-old daughter. "I don't care if she was a young man. What's wrong is wrong. I hope they get better training. I hope they get better education. I hope they get better IQs for their police officers."
The rally thinned to perhaps 15 protesters by 4 p.m., most still wearing Guy Fawkes masks as seen in the 2005 movie "'V for Vendetta" that is Anonymous' face to the world.
As the sun set on police headquarters Saturday, the group reassembled in its shadow for a candlelight vigil and prayer.
The Rev. Andy Allison of Coignard's Life Church read the New Testament story of Jesus calming a storm tossing the boat carrying him and his disciples.
"This is a storm for a family," he said. "This is a storm for a community, this is a storm for the city. ... And we are all in the same boat."