Easthampton mayor, police chief take knee in protest

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  • Residents of the Lathrop Retirement Community off Florence Road in Easthampton kneel Thursday as part of a citywide protest against racism and the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis on May 25.  STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Myra Oyedemi of Easthampton makes the heart shape with her hands as she kneels with her sons Bryce, left, 11, and Tayo, 8, for 8½ minutes at the rotary in Easthampton, Thursday, in a citywide action to protest the killing of George Floyd. STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • A crowd kneels for 8 1/2 minutes at the rotary in Easthampton at 4 p.m. on Thursday, June 4, 2020, in a citywide action to protest the killing of George Floyd. —STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • Jason Montgomery spoke to the crowd at the Easthampton rotary after most people knelt for 8 1/2 minutes on Thursday, June 4, 2020, to protest the killing of George Floyd. Montgomery questioned the value of the action and urged the crowd to take more concrete action against systemic racism. —STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • A crowd kneels for 8 1/2 minutes at the rotary in Easthampton on Thursday, June 4, 2020, in a citywide action to protest the killing of George Floyd. —STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • D.L. Grant holds a sign on the rotary in Easthampton at about 4:15 p.m. on Thursday, June 4, 2020, after a citywide action to protest the killing of George Floyd. —STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • Myra Oyedemi of Easthampton makes the heart shape to passing cars at the rotary in Easthampton on Thursday, June 4, 2020, just before in a citywide action to protest the killing of George Floyd. —STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • Jason Montgomery, right, has a discussion with someone at the Easthampton rotary after many people knelt for 8½ minutes on Thursday in a citywide action to protest the killing of George Floyd. Montgomery questioned the value of the action and urged the crowd to take more concrete action against systemic racism. STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • State Rep. Daniel Carey, from left, Easthampton Mayor Nicole LaChapelle and Easthampton Police Chief Robert Alberti kneel at the Easthampton Public Safety Complex, Thursday. STAFF PHOTO/JERREY ROBERTS

  • People kneel Thursday, June 4, 2020 at the Easthampton Public Safety Complex during a citywide action to protest the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis. —STAFF PHOTO/JERREY ROBERTS

  • People kneel Thursday, June 4, 2020 at the Easthampton Public Safety Complex during a citywide action to protest the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis. —STAFF PHOTO/JERREY ROBERTS

  • People kneel Thursday, June 4, 2020 at the Easthampton Public Safety Complex during a citywide action to protest the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis. —STAFF PHOTO/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Some choose to stand and raise a fist as others kneel at the Easthampton Public Safety Complex, Thursday, June 4, 2020 during a citywide action to protest the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis. —STAFF PHOTO/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Some choose to stand and hold signs as others kneel Thursday at the Easthampton Public Safety Complex during a citywide action to protest the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis. STAFF PHOTO/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Some choose to stand and raise a fist as others kneel at the Easthampton Public Safety Complex, Thursday, June 4, 2020 during a citywide action to protest the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis. —STAFF PHOTO/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Lea Donnan of Easthampton, front, kneels with others, Thursday, June 4, 2020 at the Easthampton Public Safety Complex during a citywide action to protest the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis. —STAFF PHOTO/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Django Mor of Williamsburg, 6, carries a sign, Thursday, June 4, 2020 at the Easthampton Public Safety Complex during a citywide action to protest the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis. —STAFF PHOTO/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Rebeca Chaverri and her son Christopher Sotiropoulos, 10, of South Hadley were among about three hundred people who gathered at the rotary in Easthampton at 5 p.m. on Thursday, June 4, 2020, for a second vigil to protest racial injustice and the killing of George Floyd. —STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • Lisa Ferrer, right, and her daughter, Destiny Ferrer, of Easthampton take part in a second vigil at the city's rotary at 5 p.m. on Thursday, June 4, 2020, to protest racial injustice and the killing of George Floyd. —STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • Brian O'Connell, foreground, of Easthampton stands at the point of the Easthampton rotary at Main Street during a second vigil, at 5 p.m. on Thursday, June 4, 2020, to protest racial injustice and the killing of George Floyd. —STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • About three hundred people took part in a second vigil at the rotary in Easthampton at 5 p.m. on Thursday, June 4, 2020, to protest racial injustice and the killing of George Floyd. —STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

Staff Writer
Published: 6/4/2020 7:13:27 PM

EASTHAMPTON — At 4 p.m. on Thursday, a few people dropped to one knee in Pulaski Park, the grassy area in the middle of the rotary on Main Street. They were soon joined by others, as nearly the entirety of the assembled crowd, close to 100 people at the start, dropped to the ground in a solemn, silent action.

Led by Police Chief Robert Alberti and Mayor Nicole LaChapelle, who kneeled at the public safety complex outside 32 Payson Ave., people across the city of Easthampton took a knee for 8½ minutes to protest racism and the killing of George Floyd.

“I feel like the voice that I have as mayor, the voice he has as police chief, is not the voice that we need to be listening to,” said LaChapelle, following the action. “It’s our job to listen.”

Floyd, a black man, was killed in Minneapolis, May 25, as a result of a white police officer, Derek Chauvin, kneeling on his neck for nearly nine minutes. Chauvin has since been charged with second-degree murder, and the three other officers on the scene have been charged with lesser offenses.

Floyd’s death has sparked protests nationwide, some of which have seen outbreaks of violence from both police and civilians.

At around 4 p.m., the bell at the Easthampton Congregational Church was rung for 8 ½ minutes, in recognition of Floyd. At 5 p.m., a second protest against racism and in honor of Floyd also took place at the rotary.

At the kneeling action at the rotary, many cars honked their support, and waves and the peace sign were also given. One man did, however, shout “all lives matter” repeatedly in an aggressive manner at the protesters as he drove past.

Joanne Benkley, of Easthampton, said she chose to kneel, “Because it’s time for … white people to stand up for what’s right and what needs to happen.”

Not everyone backed the 4 p.m. kneeling action, with some protesters at the rotary opting to hold signs and stand instead.

“The display of kneeling … is violent in this moment,” said D.L. Grant, holding a sign calling for the defunding of police. “We can do so much more than kneeling.”

Grant also noted that the police knelt on Floyd’s neck.

Alberti estimated that at least 100 people showed up to 32 Payson Ave. for the kneeling action. He said it is important that the community knows the department doesn’t condone what happened to Floyd.

“It was a murder,” said Alberti. “We did not take an oath and sign up to do that to people.”

At the conclusion of the kneeling action on the town common, Jason Montgomery, of Easthampton, who had stood during the protest, called on those assembled to do more.

“Without actually taking a moment to do something, what you did is meaningless,” he said. “So leave this place and do something.”

Correction: An earlier version of this story misidentified the    church that rang its bell during the kneeling action. It was Easthampton Congregational Church.

Bera Dunau can be reached at bdunau@gazettenet.com.




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