About 400 members of the “Not F---ing Around Coalition,” a Black, Atlanta-based militia, marched in downtown Lafayette without incident Saturday and were joined by about 200 other demonstrators.
The heavily armed militia group marched from Lafayette’s downtown library to Parc Sans Souci and back Saturday in what NFAC leader John Fitzgerald Johnson, better known as "Grandmaster Jay,” called “another historic, successful formation.”
Johnson has described the NFAC’s three main goals protecting the Black community, promoting self-policing in the Black community and educating the Black community about their rights as responsible gun owners.
While NFAC members were lining up near the library before the march began, law enforcement responded to a report of shots fired near Parc Sans Souci about 4:30 p.m. Authorities arrested Terrance Jones, 26, of Lafayette, for reckless discharge of a firearm and felon in possession of a firearm.
The incident occurred about four blocks from where NFAC members were gathering at the time, and no injuries were reported.
When the shots were heard, leaders of the Black militia yelled for members to stay down.
NFAC members remained in the street and parking lot of the downtown branch of the Lafayette Public Library, delaying the start of their march by about 10 minutes to about 4:45 p.m.
NFAC members start to suit up and arm themselves. Other local organizations such as the NAACP and Unity 7 are joining the march. pic.twitter.com/wZ47lBadsr— Victoria Dodge (@Victoria_Dodge) October 3, 2020
Saturday’s march was prompted by threats made by U.S. Rep. Clay Higgins on Facebook regarding protests in Lafayette following the death of Trayford Pellerin, a 31-year-old Black man who was fatally shot by Lafayette police responding to a reported disturbance involving a man with a knife at a north Lafayette gas station on Aug. 21.
The NFAC initially planned to come to Lafayette after Pellerin's death in August but leader John Fitzgeraldn Johnson, better known as Grandmaster Jay, said the group stepped aside when others said they would step up.
Higgins' post, which included a picture of the NFAC, was posted the same day protesters and a majority white militia group, the Louisiana Cajun Militia, gathered outside Lafayette City Hall.
Higgins and Johnson have since spoken, but Johnson said he expects a public apology from the congressman and criticized Higgins during Saturday’s rally.
At Parc Sans Souci, NFAC leader Grand Master Jay speaks to members and crowd pic.twitter.com/ImTcoaBfoC— Victoria Dodge (@Victoria_Dodge) October 3, 2020
Before the march started, Johnston addressed his members and the crowd, telling them not point their guns at anyone and reminded them of his promise, that “ain’t nobody gonna get shot out here on my watch.”
“Lafayette, Louisiana, I hope you heard that loud and clear. We don’t come to start anything, but we will finish everything,” he said.
Dressed in all black, the militia members marched, isolated from the public and other supporting activist groups, across a small swath of downtown Lafayette, walking briskly with their weapons pointed at the ground as leaders reminded them to “keep their heads on a swivel” and stay vigilant while periodically stopping to kneel en masse.
Several local activist groups marched behind the NFAC on Saturday and joined in the militia’s rally at Parc Sans Souci where Johnson and others spoke.
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Speakers included Marja Broussard with the Lafayette NAACP; Carlos Harvin, chief of minority affairs at Lafayette Consolidated Government; Bishop John W. Milton of Lafayette’s Imani Temple and the Rev. Victor White II, father of a New Iberia man whose hands were cuffed behind his back when he died in the rear of an Iberia Parish Sheriff’s Office patrol car.
Johnston addressed Pellerin’s death, calling upon the crowd and Lafayette to continue demonstrating and demanding justice. He pointed into the crowd and said “It could have been you.”
Johnson also addressed the dozens of law enforcement officers present at Saturday’s event, saying that their jobs “wouldn’t be that hard if you treated us like human beings.
“Your job wouldn’t be that hard if you treated us like U.S. citizens and not enemy combatants. Your jobs wouldn’t be that hard if you let us police ourselves,” Johnson said.
“Your job wouldn’t be that hard if you stopped killing us first and then trying to answer questions second. De-escalate, like you do for everybody else.”
Broussard, who leads Lafayette’s NAACP, called the NFAC’s presence in Lafayette “a new goddamn day.” She urged the hundreds of people who joined the militia group in Parc Sans Souci to stay committed to fighting for justice and accountability in Pellerin’s death.
“We need to know that change does not happen instantly. It’s a movement. It’s not going to happen tomorrow. It’s not going to happen next year, which is why we have to stay with them right here,” Broussard said.
“It’s important that we stay committed,” she added.
Harvin, who has been criticized by activists throughout racial unrest in Lafayette this summer, said the city was "honored" to host the NFAC. Some crowd members at the park responded by clapping; others yelled "traitor" and chanted “No more Carlos” before booing him when he mentioned Mayor-President Josh Guillory.
After more than an hour of speeches in Parc Sans Souci, the NFAC regrouped into its marching formation and made the half-mile trek back to the downtown library, joined by members of the public who followed on the opposite side of security barricades separating the militia members from the crowd.
Johnson praised the NFAC’s rank and file membership for the peaceful, organized demonstration, and at 7 p.m. law enforcement cleared the militia from the library parking lot without incident.
Closing words of the NFAC: pic.twitter.com/6FvpRxTIeM— Victoria Dodge (@Victoria_Dodge) October 3, 2020
This article originally appeared on Lafayette Daily Advertiser: NFAC march: Protest in Lafayette ends as organizers proclaim 'another successful demonstration'