Rally held on Green against police brutality
Over 300 Upper Valley residents, Dartmouth faculty and students gathered on the Green Saturday evening, many holding banners that read “Black Lives Matter,” to rally against the recent deaths of George Floyd and other victims of police brutality. Following Floyd’s death in the custody of Minneapolis police last week, a series of protests and riots have erupted across the country.
The rally, titled “End the Killing Now: Distanced Sidewalk Vigil, Dartmouth Green,” lasted about 45 minutes and included speeches from local community and religious leaders. The event was hosted by United Valley Interfaith Project lead organizer Asma Elhuni and supported by the New Hampshire and Vermont chapters of the National Lawyers Guild, Upper Valley Democratic Socialists, Rise Upper Valley, Jewish Voice for Peace and Extinction Rebellion. Rally organizer Ali Brokenshire encouraged attendees to sign up for the event via text messages and receive instructions about the rally on the event’s Facebook page.
Speakers and event organizers laid out demands for a decrease in police funding, as well as an increase in financial relief for jobs, housing and health care for black, indigenous and other communities of color during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Event organizer Ed Taylor of Manchester, New Hampshire urged white people to stand up to address the systemic abuse and killings of black people by the police.
During an intermission, Alicia Barrow, one of the speakers at the rally and a White River Junction resident, invited her 10-year-old son, who was holding up a “Black Lives Matter” poster, to come stand near her. She shared a story about her son feeling insecure about attending the event.
“He said, … ‘What’s to say that somebody doesn’t come up to me and kill me because I’m black,’” Barrow said. “These are the daily conversations that I have to have with my 10-year-old son.”
Organizers publicized the rally on Facebook, Twitter and email and asked protestors to follow public health protocol and not engage with law enforcement or counter-protestors. To adhere to social distancing guidelines, protestors were told that they could also participate from their cars. During the rally, speakers only took off their masks when speaking without a microphone, and almost all attendees wore masks while maintaining social distance. Volunteers also distributed masks to those who did not already have them.
Hanover Police lieutenant Scott Rathburn said a patrol unit was present during the event, adding that no permit was required for the rally and that there was no interaction between the police and the attendees during the event.
Shortly before the event started at 6 p.m., the rally organizers gathered at the Bank of America building, arranged logistics and started to march down Main Street toward the Green, Barrow said.
As the event began, with the bells of Baker-Berry tower sounding the Dartmouth Alma Mater, Barrow led a recitation of the names of lives lost at the hands of the police.
“There're so many more names out there that I couldn't possibly find them all,” Barrow said in an interview with The Dartmouth after the rally. “There's no one source that lists all the lives that have been taken. But I did a lot of research over the past 24 hours to be able to put them in our heart[s].”
Upper Valley residents Chris Roberge and Vince Wilson both spoke to the crowd about their struggles as black people in the U.S. They stressed the systemic oppression that they said black and minority communities face and called for people to build coalitions across groups of different races, genders and religions to make change.
“To be black in America, we have to go outside every day, and that is like an adventure,” Wilson said during his speech. “We don’t know [whether] we’re going to come home.”
Senior pastor Amanda Lape-Freeberg at the Church of Christ at Dartmouth College also spoke at the rally. She concluded her remarks with a prayer asking God to enable people of all races to care for one another.
The rally ended with organizers encouraging attendees to connect with one another. Attendees stayed on the Green, chanting “not one more life,” “Black Lives Matter” and “defund the cops.”
Additionally, Emilie Connolly, a member of the Society of Fellows in the Native American studies program, encouraged the attendees to join a more local effort: a letter-signing campaign calling for a suspension of the collaboration between the Upper Valley Haven, a local temporary shelter and food bank, with the police when visiting homeless community members.
Elhuni expressed in a post on the rally’s Facebook page that the rally’s organizers oppose the Haven’s collaboration with police in any form, noting that “the Hartford police and the Haven are completely separate entities that do not mix” and adding that “[c]onsidering the important role the Haven plays in the Upper Valley,” it is “vital” that community members “feel safe” reaching out to the Haven, something that she said could be jeopardized due to a collaboration with police.
According to Upper Valley Haven director Michael Redmond, the Hartford police reached out to the Haven about three years ago and proposed a collaborative initiative to conduct joint visits to the local homeless community.
“It's risky living outside, and emergency services know where to find [the homeless community],” Redmond said. He said that the Hartford police “recognize that they don't have the skills to help people find housing, they don't have training around mental health,” including connections to other services to help people move into a more permanent home. Therefore, Redmond said that the Haven staff has been accompanying the police on visits to the homeless population from time to time.
In a post-rally interview with The Dartmouth, Elhuni explained that some community members like herself are frustrated that instead of connecting vulnerable communities to services and directly building trust with the homeless community in the Upper Valley, the Haven has been accompanying plain-clothes police on visits to the homeless community.
Redmond stressed that the police are involved to improve the Haven’s work and ensure the safety of the homeless communities in case of emergency. He also noted that the joint visits “create an area of safety for if there is a concern about how people’s rights could be violated” and that he believes the homeless community perceives them as an act of care and attention.
Redmond said he has been exchanging emails with activists petitioning against him, including Elhuni, but said that her statements have mischaracterized the collaboration between police and the Haven.
Scott Holliman, a Vermont resident, said that he attended the rally “to pay respect to … black men and women in recent weeks who were murdered at the hands of police.” He added that being a father to an adopted black child brings his family a heightened awareness of the implications of the recent killings of black men.
“I’m here as a white ally, taking another step in showing solidarity and coming out to remember the importance of my role in educating other white people,” Holliman said.
Holliman said that staying socially distanced made it somewhat difficult to hear the speakers but noted that he was surprised at the turnout.
“It was good to look behind me and see a good number of folks, and people seemed respectful of social distancing,” Holliman said. “It was a group of people who were considerate of what we are dealing with COVID and also considering the horrendousness of white supremacy.”