MERRILLVILLE — Voices rang out from Broadway on Friday as marchers walked peacefully through the street in pursuit of change.
The marchers, who were led by the Region Women in Action service group, held signs and never stopped chanting as they walked from Merrillville High School to the Merrillville Police Department to bring attention to the struggles black residents face.
“We are deserving of respect, deserving of love and deserving of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness that was never given to us,” said Najalynn Chandler, of Region Women in Action.
Leanne Tennione, another member of the group, told the crowd to remember Juneteenth as they walked through the street.
Juneteenth commemorates when the last group of enslaved people in the U.S. learned they were free. That occurred on June 19, 1865, in Texas, two years after the Emancipation Proclamation became effective.
“Even then, not all enslaved people were freed instantly,” Tennione said. “Juneteenth represents ways in which freedom has been delayed by the ongoing institutional and systemic oppression of black people.”
Black pain and trauma has occurred for hundreds of years, going back to when slave ships came to America, Tennione said.
"We feel the anguish of our ancestors every time we drive through a white neighborhood, every time we see the police's red and blue lights flashing behind us,” she said.
Police officers, many of whom were on bicycles, escorted the group and blocked traffic as the marchers made their way to the Police Department.
Before heading there, Chandler delivered a message to newly appointed Merrillville Police Chief Wiley Luther Cuttino.
“Do something meaningful with this newfound position,” Chandler said to the town's first black chief. ”Don't just be the brown face that they plaster on homepages and show off in the name of progress and diversity.”
Cuttino said he will ensure his officers are properly trained to know how to handle situations and to hold each other accountable.
On Friday, he said his officers wear body cameras. He also said he will be transparent and proactive as he continues working on more programs.
“And I want you to be involved,” he said to the crowd.
Showing support of Friday's march, he told the group “I hope you can still get together like this in the November election.”
Organizers of Friday's march said Councilmen Leonard White and Richard Hardaway also expressed support of the event.
“I've always looked at the well-being of the community,” White said.
Hardaway said he is 100% behind the Black Lives Matter movement.
“All lives won't matter until black lives matter,” he said. “We have to carry that banner now.”
Tatiana Gilbert, a member of Region Women in Action, said the voices of the black community have gone unheard too long.
“It is finally our time to establish that all black lives are valuable and we will no longer stay silent,” Gilbert said.
Reem Sulieman, also of Region Women in Action, said she won't “stay in the shadows” in the fight for equality.
“We the people refuse to stop until there truly is liberty and justice for all,” Sulieman said.
At the Police Department, marchers had the opportunity to speak directly to Cuttino and other officers who watched the event.
Alani Shelton, of Chicago, became emotional as she asked officers to “please hold each other accountable.”
Joshua Hogan, 12, told the group he has faced racial issues at his young age.
“I just want this cycle to stop,” he said.
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