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Russellville community comes together for unity rally

In a time when protests are ensuing across the country over racial injustice and police brutality, community members in Franklin County are coming together to remain vigilant and reflect.

Russellville Police Chief Chris Hargett said although Franklin County has not had any protests, he is making sure his officers are aware of their roles, should a situation arise.

“Our position is we are a neutral party, and we are there to do a job,” Hargett said.

Hargett said most of the time, if there is going to be a protest in Franklin County, it takes place in front of the courthouse. To protest in front of the courthouse, groups must have approval through the probate judge’s office, and police will be asked to block off the streets, depending on the number of people.

Hargett said a unity rally June 20 brought local community members together to reflect on what it means to be united.

“More than 100 people came together to talk, to listen and to find common ground,” said Russellville City Schools Superintendent Heath Grimes. “I watched community members and community leaders communicate about expectations, concerns and where we can all do better.”

Those in attendance included several local churches, Russellville Mayor David Grissom, county revenue commissioner Veronica Copeland Stancil, county commissioners, Probate Judge Barry Moore, district attorney Joey Rushing and county Sheriff Shannon Oliver.

“It turned out to be a very peaceful rally full of encouragement,” Hargett said. “We want people to know that, during this time when police are looked at harshly due to the actions of a few officers across the country, we are only there to protect them and to ensure their rights are protected.”

Hargett said the rally was staffed heavily by police officers, as will be any protests in Russellville, as a precaution to ensure safety.

“We wanted to make sure we were well-staffed with everything going on across the country and because you never know who is going to show up and what they might try to do,” Hargett explained.

Hargett said although he fully supports the right to protest, any form of vandalism or rioting will not be tolerated and will be shut down as quick as possible.

Throughout all of the mixed feelings toward police officers across the country, Hargett said he wants to ensure Russellville continues to maintain a good community relationship.

“Right now there are a lot of stereotypes about police, and I hate to see Russellville get called into that stereotype because of bad people elsewhere in the country,” Hargett said. “I’m not going to say there haven’t been instances, but in my opinion I think we do a pretty good job of keeping race out of it.”