| Danielle Eaton
SPRINGFIELD – Hundreds of voices chanting George Floyd’s name, “no justice, no peace,” “I can’t breathe,” “say his name” and calls to end police brutality filled the air as protestors rounded the corner onto Pearl Street on the evening of June 3.
City officials estimated 3,000 to 5,000 people participated in the peaceful protest.
Floyd, a black man from Minneapolis, Minn., was detained on May 25 for suspicion of passing a counterfeit bill. He died after Minneapolis police officer, Derek Cauvin, held his knee on Floyd’s neck for nearly nine minutes. His death sparked protests and riots across the country, including four separate protest in Springfield.
The protestors, who began their march at Springfield Central High School with a speaking program, marched to the Springfield Police Department headquarters on 130 Pearl St.
Signs held by protestors consisted of phrases and sayings such as “Black Lives Matter,” “end police brutality,” “stop killing black people,” “silence is violence” and others. Also present on signs and banners displayed within the crowd were photos of Floyd and the names of other black individuals that had died at the hands of police officers across the country including Aaron Bailey, Ronell Foster, Stephon Clark, Antwon Rose II, Botham Jean, Pamela Turner, Dominique Clayton, Atatiana Jefferson, Christopher Whitfield, Christopher McCorvey and Eric Reason.
While the protestors stood in front of the police station, they chanted while intermittently kneeling with one fist raised in the air and kneeling with both hands in the air while shouting “hands up, don’t shoot.”
Prior to the protest, two metal barricades had been erected; one just after the grass partition dividing the right and left lanes on Pearl Street, and another just before the sidewalk in front of the police station where a line of uniformed officers stood throughout the protest. While protestors crossed the barricade set up to prevent them from entering the lane closest to the police station, they remained behind the barrier set up in front of the station, never attempting to cross it.
Officers remained stoic and silent, despite protestors shouting and chanting at them. Later during the protest, members of the Massachusetts State Police wearing full riot gear, including vests and face shields, joined officers standing quietly on the sidewalk. Also assisting Springfield police were members of the National Guard, who arrived by pickup trucks in riot gear after the protest began, and were positioned on a hill directly behind the protest throughout the night.
While the speaking program at Central High School began at 4 p.m., protestors remained outside the police station into the night with the protest lasting for at least seven hours. That evening, participant, Ivy Richardson said she would stay there “until racism is over.”
Another participant of the protest, Karmen Green, said, “There’s too many issues that go hand in hand with all this,” referring to the different facets of systemic injustice. She said the police were protecting an agenda that didn’t serve them either.
Green said she hoped that by being out there, “we can start a narrative that will lead to change.”
Also in attendance was Springfield City Councilor Malo Brown, who when asked if he felt that he was on the opposite side from the police said, “There’s things that are wrong. Obviously, if they don’t see that it’s wrong, then yeah we’re on the opposite sides.”
Brown added that he had spoken to Springfield Police Commissioner Cheryl Clapprood to try to ensure peace, and that the “kids,” meaning the younger protesters, couldn’t understand why the police wouldn’t take a knee.
At one point during the rally, a man in the crowd appealed to the officer nearest to him, asking the officer to take a knee in solidarity with the protest. “Now’s your moment,” he said to the officer.
Brown also pointed out National Guard members, perched on the hill. “They have the National Guard here to act,” he said. But Brown pointed out that everything had remained peaceful.
Later, after a large number of protesters had left the rally, cops and protesters talked past the barricades and laughed, but the crowd continued chanting and yelling, as well.
However, while some, like Catherine Fickling were concerned that people would begin to get restless, the protest never became violent. Springfield Police Department spokesperson, Ryan Walsh, confirmed for Reminder Publishing that no arrests were made after the hours-long protest, and “no incidents [took place] in the city overnight related to the protests.”
Springfield Mayor Domenic Sarno praised protestors for remaining peaceful to honor Floyd’s memory and demanding change.
“The message from these peaceful protesters came across loud and clear to honor George Floyd and his legacy of change. We made sure to protect our peaceful protestors, our residents, businesses and police officers from any negative outside individuals whose main purpose is to create mayhem and destruction. Working together we made sure that no one was harmed or hurt or property was damaged,” he said in a statement released the day after the protest. He said he believed “that peaceful movements like these can help lead to justice and reform across the nation for the atrocious and tragic death of George Floyd.”
Sarno also expressed his appreciation for the “professionalism shown by the Springfield Police Department, our great relationships with Major Mike Habel and the Massachusetts State Police, General Gary Keefe and the Massachusetts National Guard and as always Sheriff Nick Cocchi and the Hampden County Sheriff’s Department.”
William Baker, Sarno’s communications officer, explained to Reminder Publishing the National Guard and State Police presence came about by both groups reaching out to the city at the governor’s request.
Clapprood also expressed her appreciation for the peaceful protest and agencies who assisted the Springfield Police Department during the protest. She said Sarno, herself and fellow Springfield Police Department member, Deputy Chief Rupert Daniel, had even participated in the rally at Central High School and part of the march.
“Myself, Deputy Chief Rupert Daniel and Mayor Sarno took part in the rally at Central High School and a portion of the march. We offered rides back to Central H.S. from the PVTA to help ensure their safety,” she said in a statement released on June 3.
Clapprood also expressed the frustration police officers feel when tragic events, such as the death of Floyd, occur. “I just want to reiterate that police officers are as frustrated as you are when incidents like this happen across the country. We heard your message, anger and frustration, but commend you on keeping this protest peaceful,” she said.
Sarah Heinonen and G. Michael Dobbs contributed to this report.