Still kneeling: Local resident continues to protest police brutality

Grant D. Crawford | Daily Press

Dr. John Yeutter knelt at Norris Park Wednesday to protest police brutality and systemic racism.

After the world saw peaceful protests, mass demonstrations, and, at times, looting play out across the nation on television screens and social media posts, the spotlight has since drifted to other topics of conversation.

However, a small group in Tahlequah has kept its public form of dissent against police brutality going in the downtown area's Norris Park.

Following the death of George Floyd, who was killed after Minneapolis Police Officer Derek Chauvin knelt on his neck for nearly nine minutes as Floyd repeatedly said, "I can't breathe," protesters filled the streets of cities across the country in droves. A group in town also made a point to have their presence felt and voices heard, as they gathered on the lawn of Norris Park to "kneel at noon."

What started one day as a small group, with supporters kneeling on the grass to signify their objection to the killing of Floyd and other people of color by police, eventually turned into a much larger gathering of roughly 100 people later in that first week of June. On Wednesday, there was one person, Dr. John Yeutter, who knelt with a Black Lives Matter sign at the park.

"It's kind of dwindled down to just me," said Yeutter. "Several people who would be here are not here because of risk of infection."

In a society of endless information, there is always news. After all, it is an election year, and countries across the globe have been reeling with the impact of COVID-19. Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt announced Wednesday that he was the nation's first governor to test positive for the virus. Yeutter said he understands that is "the major issue today."

"I'll give you that, but systemic racism exists, and it exists in Cherokee County," he said. "So it's still a problem and people need to be reminded of it. It's easy for an issue to kind of fade from public perception, and Norris Park is a great public forum."

It was hot Wednesday, as temperatures reached into the 90s. Good thing for Yeutter that he only kneels at the park for around 15 minutes each week day. Even if it is only 15 minutes, he said it could be somebody's daily reminder racial issues still persist within the country.

"We've forgotten that we used to have a [Confederate] statue at the courthouse," he said. "We forget lots of things. I just figured maybe it's somebody's daily reminder."

Yeutter has not faced any aggressors or instigators since he's been keeling at Norris Park. He also said all community members are always welcome to join him. He's not sure how long he will continue to visit the park to kneel at noon.

"Until it's not needed, maybe," he said. "I don't know."

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