Seeking more than a ‘symbolic gesture’: Around 200 join anti-racism protest in Easthampton

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  • Around 200 people marching to the Easthampton police station turn the corner from Union Street onto Payson Avenue during an action organized by the group 01027: A Knee Is Not Enough on Saturday, Aug. 1, 2020. STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • Simbrit Paskins, center, co-founder of 413 Stay Woke, Stay Active, reads the names of Black lives lost to police violence as around 200 people take a knee or raise a fist, or both, on the lawn of the Easthampton Public Safety Complex during a rally and march organized by the group 01027: A Knee Is Not Enough on Saturday, Aug. 1, 2020. STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • Around 200 people march down Main Street in Easthampton toward the police station during a rally organized by the group 01027: A Knee Is Not Enough on Saturday, Aug. 1, 2020. STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • Easthampton Precinct 3 City Councilor Thomas Peake speaks to around 200 people at a rally in Easthampton’s Pulaski Park organized by the group 01027: A Knee Is Not Enough on Saturday, Aug. 1, 2020. STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • Around 200 people take a knee or raise a fist, or both, on the lawn of the Easthampton Public Safety Complex as 413 Stay Woke, Stay Active co-founder Simbrit Paskins reads the names of Black lives lost to police violence, during an action organized by the group 01027: A Knee Is Not Enough on Saturday, Aug. 1, 2020. STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • Around 200 people march down Main Street in Easthampton toward the police station during a rally organized by the group 01027: A Knee Is Not Enough on Saturday, Aug. 1, 2020. STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • Around 200 people march down Main Street in Easthampton toward the police station during a rally organized by the group 01027: A Knee Is Not Enough on Saturday, Aug. 1, 2020. STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • Brothers Damian, left, and Oren Fishel, both 12, of Leeds hold their signs at Easthampton’s Pulaski Park before the start of a rally organized by the group 01027: A Knee Is Not Enough on Saturday, Aug. 1, 2020. STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • 413 Stay Woke, Stay Active co-founders Stephany Marryshow, left, and Simbrit Paskins address about 200 people at a rally in Easthampton’s Pulaski Park organized by the group 01027: A Knee Is Not Enough on Saturday, Aug. 1, 2020. STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • Oren Fishel, 12, of Leeds, holds a sign he made at Easthampton’s Pulaski Park before the start of a rally organized by the group 01027: A Knee Is Not Enough on Saturday, Aug. 1, 2020. STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • Myra Oyedemi, center, a member of 01027: A Knee Is Not Enough, speaks to around 200 people at a rally organized by the group in Easthampton’s Pulaski Park on Saturday, Aug. 1, 2020. At right is another speaker, 413 Stay Woke, Stay Active co-founder Stephany Marryshow. STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • A man attending the 01027: A Knee is Not Enough rally in Easthampton’s Pulaski Park holds a list of names of Black lives lost to police violence as he listens to a speaker addressing the rally from the park’s gazebo on Saturday, Aug. 1, 2020. STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • Easthampton Precinct 3 City Councilor Thomas Peake speaks to around 200 people at a rally in Easthampton’s Pulaski Park organized by the group 01027: A Knee Is Not Enough on Saturday, Aug. 1, 2020. STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • Shane Kerr of Easthampton paints his own sign in the city’s Pulaski Park prior to a rally and march organized by the group 01027: A Knee Is Not Enough on Saturday, Aug. 1, 2020. STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • 413 Stay Woke, Stay Active co-founder Simbrit Paskins addresses about 200 people at a rally in Easthampton’s Pulaski Park organized by the group 01027: A Knee Is Not Enough on Saturday, Aug. 1, 2020. STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • Northampton singer/songwriter Diana Alvarez speaks to about 200 people outside the Easthampton Public Safety Complex during an action organized by the group 01027: A Knee Is Not Enough on Saturday, Aug. 1, 2020. STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • Cyclist Sarah King, center, of Easthampton listens to speakers at a rally in Easthampton’s Pulaski Park organized by the group 01027: A Knee Is Not Enough on Saturday, Aug. 1, 2020. STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • A sign at the 01027: A Knee Is Not Enough rally in Easthampton’s Pulaski Park on Saturday, Aug. 1, 2020. STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • 413 Stay Woke, Stay Active co-founders Stephany Marryshow and Simbrit Paskins, right, prepare a crowd of about 200 people for a march to the Easthampton police station following a rally in the city’s Pulaski Park organized by the group 01027: A Knee Is Not Enough on Saturday, Aug. 1, 2020. STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • 413: A Knee Is Not Enough member Jason Montgomery speaks to about 200 people at a rally organized by the group 01027: A Knee Is Not Enough in Easthampton’s Pulaski Park on Saturday, Aug. 1, 2020. STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

Staff Writer
Published: 8/2/2020 8:05:09 AM

EASTHAMPTON — When Stephany Marryshow and her family moved into the Treehouse Foundation community in the city in 2005, it was because her mother wanted to provide her four children with the best opportunities possible.

But Marryshow stood on the lawn outside of the building that houses the city’s police station on Saturday afternoon and recounted some of the ways she and her loved ones experienced racism while living in the city: A seventh grade teacher asking her brother if he was in a gang or had ever been shot at, a postman asking her mother if she lived in the “projects on Pleasant Street” and being pulled over, herself, by the police “way too many times.”

“I had to try hard to be confident as a POC (person of color) in this town. I’ve had to fight and have emotionally draining conversations to prove my worth,” said Marryshow, 29, now of West Springfield and co-founder of activist group 413 Stay Woke, Stay Active. “We shouldn’t have to suffer to have better opportunities.”

Marryshow was one of many speakers who participated in a protest organized by the local group 01027: A Knee Is Not Enough, along with 413 Stay Woke, Stay Active and Massachusetts Jobs With Justice. The groups are demanding that the city take anti-racist actions “to transform historically-biased institutions, policies and practices in the city of Easthampton,” according to a news release about the event.

Led by Black, Indigenous and people of color (BIPOC), A Knee Is Not Enough was formed following a June protest called by Mayor Nicole LaChapelle and Police Chief Robert Alberti against racism and the murder of George Floyd; during that action, hundreds of people took a knee for 8½ minutes across the city.

After the protest, city leaders “failed to follow up with any actionable steps or anything after than just that symbolic gesture,” said Gaby Stevenson, of Easthampton, a member of the A Knee Is Not Enough BIPOC caucus. “So, this is our call for action for real steps, real action, to create a safe, welcoming community for people of all colors and orientations.”

The day’s events started in the late morning at the rotary in the center of town where participants began painting cardboard signs. Before speakers took the mics placed underneath the shade of the gazebo, Holyoke musician Iréne Shaikly, whose artist name is “I-SHEA,” cried “say their names” while rhythmically banging on a makeshift drum.

Names of some of the Black people killed by racial and police violence began rising from random areas of the crowd: Michael Brown. Trayvon Martin. Breonna Taylor. George Floyd.

“This event is your opportunity to acknowledge growth and accept and understand failures of this community,” said Myra Oyedemi, of A Knee Is Not Enough, and one of the first to speak to the crowd. “This is your opportunity to continue to listen, learn and pave the way for meaningful discussion and dialogue … and to move toward social justice, equity, anti-bias and anti-racism.”

Jason Montgomery, of A Knee Is Not Enough, called for divesting funds from the city’s police department and reinvesting it into other services.

“We demand that we stop asking the police to do work in our community that they are not equipped to do. Put that money where it can actually do good,” Montgomery said to the crowd.

After more speakers, the crowd of around 200 people started move down Main Street and onto Union Street, blocking one lane of traffic on the hot and sunny afternoon. Chants of “Black Lives Matter,” “No more silence, no more lies, we will not be victimized,” “Hands up, don’t shoot,” and “No justice, no peace, no racist police” rang throughout downtown. The group held handmade signs, such as, “No one is free until we are all free” and “Solidarity forever.”

Rounding the corner at Payson Avenue, the marchers eventually made their way to the lawn of the Public Safety Complex, which houses the city’s police department, fire department and EMS. After a moment of silence for those who died from racial violence, Diana Alvarez read some demands of A Knee Is Not Enough to the crowd.

Alvarez acknowledged the written response that city officials initially gave to the group’s demands, calling it “a next step in a long process of eradicating racism within Easthampton’s institutions.” However, Alvarez said that while the city had policies in place related to the group’s demands, “they are often not adequately detailed,” and that the city’s response raised “further questions.”

Alvarez said the group is calling for further anti-racist solutions that are “part of a living document,” which Alvarez said the group will discuss with the mayor and police chief in an upcoming meeting scheduled for next week. Of the groups many demands, Alvarez highlighted a few: a more complete “practical analysis” of the last three years of policing in the city, the elimination of school resource officers, the independent ban of chokeholds by the department and the release of public data regarding use of force.

“We must hold our leaders and ourselves accountable to our community,” Alvarez said, “to ensure that this is a safe place for Black and brown people of the global majority.”

The crowd eventually marched back up Union Street, chanting the entire way to the rotary where the protest was scheduled to end with more speakers and performances from local artists. Before the march, District 3 City Councilor Thomas Peake spoke. At-Large City Councilor Lindsey Rothschild spoke after the march, and a statement from District 2 City Councilor Homar Gomez was read aloud.

Michael Connors can be reached at mconnors@gazettenet.com.


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