Few in Number, Black Residents in Appalachia Push for Justice

Brian Skinner Demographics, Justice, Politics and Campaigns

Vigil

Stateline — By April Simpson — October 5, 2020

Just as soon as the grand jury decision came down in the shooting death of Breonna Taylor, several people in southeastern Kentucky began organizing a candlelight vigil in her memory.

Taylor was killed in March by police officers in Louisville, Kentucky, who executed a midnight no-knock search warrant, the type of which the city has since banned.

In late September, a state grand jury held no one criminally accountable for killing Taylor. Protests broke out in Louisville and other large cities.

In the small Appalachian town of Hazard, Joseph Palumbo and several friends began looking for a place to hold a vigil and posting updates to a closed Facebook group. Dozens of people attended.

“After all these needless deaths, it’s getting to the point where I can’t hold my tongue,” said Palumbo, 33, who’s biracial and was raised by White grandparents. “I can’t be a keyboard warrior. I want to do something about it.”

Months after a wave of anti-police brutality and Black Lives Matter demonstrations stretched into rural, largely White areas, the organizing persists in pockets of Central Appalachia. Young and old are sharpening their political voices and strengthening alliances across races.

Their work, however, serves as an example of the challenges organizers face in pushing for racial justice in areas where people of color are few. Some Black residents say they feel physically and psychologically isolated.

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