Behind the anger and frustration fired up by the death of George Floyd at the hands of police in Minneapolis, there are people who still believe in the philosophy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. To prepare a rally fueled not by hatred or violence but by peace and ideas was an excellent strategy.
Hudson Mayor Kamal Johnson brought hundreds to Promenade Hill Park on Sunday afternoon to rally for justice in the wake of Floyd’s death. It was a brilliant move.
Floyd, 46, an African-American, died in police custody after a Minneapolis police officer knelt on Floyd’s neck for almost nine minutes as he pleaded he could not breathe. The incident was caught on video by a bystander. His death has sparked protests, demonstrations and riots in New York City, Albany and cities worldwide.
Sunday’s protest was all about voices, not violence. The floor was open to anyone who wanted to speak, give an opinion or simply vent. In a sense, the speakers reflected the need to stand up for people whose voices could not be heard. The common theme of the speeches was simple and pointed: No more discrimination because of race or color.
“This is an event for solidarity, and to let the world know there doesn’t have to be chaos,” Johnson said. “But we can be fed up and we can be angry.” Johnson organized the rally with the assistance of city officials, including Police Commissioner Peter Volkmann and Police Chief L. Edward Moore.
By structuring the rally in this way, Johnson and the other organizers were able to deflect rage and made sure the community felt as if someone was listening. It was also shaped so that police understand this isn’t just about them. It’s about everyone doing a better job for the community.
Julia Prem, of Hudson, held a sign urging white people to stand up to racism. “It’s like the sign says: White silence equals violence,” Prem said.
Protesters were asked to build, not burn, as a way of bringing about change in society. Hudson had a golden opportunity Sunday to rise peacefully and show the rest of the nation what solidarity is.
Moore addressed the protesters, saying incidents such as Floyd’s death while in police custody make all police look bad. “Police officer is a noble profession, and when something like this happens, it tarnishes all the good work and does it rather quickly,” Moore said.
Johnson and police officials pleaded with the community to voice their concerns at the demonstration and not participate in community disturbances such as riots or looting. To their credit and the credit of the protesters, not a fist was raised at the rally.
As is often the case, young people led the way Sunday.
“So many people are wondering, why have fires and why loot? What is it going to change?” said Dezjuan Smith from the youth organization Kite’s Nest. “The way I see it is, for decades, black people and people of color have been asking and pleading for change. But now, after being left speechless by a horrific video that we all saw, I think now we can’t simply speak, we need to do.”
It’s time for officials/law enforcement to take their knees off the throats of our brothers and sisters of color and plant it on the ground in solidarity with them.
We have had three months in lockdown to think about the kind of future we want. We’ve seen TV ads and public service announcements calling for more compassion, more tolerance, more of doing the right thing for ourselves and others. Sunday’s rally embodied all three with intelligence and articulation.