Columbus protest organizers react on Saturday's rally, plans for future events

Columbus Mayor Teresa Tomlinson weighs in on weekend protests

COLUMBUS, GA (WTVM) -  Community activist Marquese Averett spent a few hours inside the Muscogee County Jail after police arrested him Saturday for leading a protest in uptown Columbus.

When asked if he would change anything about what happened, he said he would do it all over again.

"In a heartbeat, I would," Averett said.

Averett and Tonza Thomas, president of Columbus' NAACP chapter, were arrested for violating city ordinances.

In a statement written by Columbus Mayor Teresa Tomlinson, which was posted on Facebook, she said both group leaders were warned 3 times to move the crowd from the intersection of Veterans Parkway and 10th Street.

Averett said he disputes that claim.

"The police chief told me once to move out the middle of the road, and we did just that," he said. 

Tonza Thomas said she knew the consequences of leading protesters to a location outside the area designated by police, but she acknowledged Columbus Police officers were respectful enough to let the march finish in its original spot.

"They respected the office and the position of the organization enough not to treat us unfairly," Thomas said. "They had a job to do and we did too," she said.

Mayor Tomlinson, who was present at the march, said she acted to disperse the crowd as soon as she saw emergency responders approach the intersection.

"That's why we have to have permits," Tomlinson said.  "We have to have the roads cleared, the public right of way's cleared because we're going to have civic order."

Averett said both he and Thomas were already in police custody, with the crowd waiting on the sidewalk, by the time emergency vehicles crossed the intersection.

"If anything," Averett said, "it was her own police who were blocking the pathway, you know?"

Averett said this arrest won't deter him or any other activists from organizing more protests in Columbus.

"We're going to continue our movement. We're going to continue organizing, continue to strategize, continue talking about the issues," Averett said. "We won't be silenced."

Both Thomas and Averett said they are working to coordinate more rallies in the coming weeks. In addition, Averett said he was working on filing the paperwork to host a rally next weekend.

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