More than 1,000 throng Amherst Common in call for racial justice

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  • Amherst native William Rock, center, now of Holyoke, and Tracy Faulstick, right, of Shutesbury stand in the median of South Pleasant Street in Amherst during a peaceful protest against racial violence on Sunday. STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • A vigil organized by the Interfaith Opportunities Network to express solidarity with George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery and other victims of racial violence drew about 1000 people to the Amherst Town Common on Sunday, May 31, 2020. —STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • Smith College student Hawa Tarawally addresses a crowd at the corner of South Pleasant and Main streets in Amherst during a rally to protest racial violence that drew about 1000 people to downtown on Sunday. STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • A vigil organized by the Interfaith Opportunities Network to express solidarity with George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery and other victims of racial violence drew about 1000 people to the Amherst Town Common on Sunday. STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • A vigil organized by the Interfaith Opportunities Network to show solidarity with George Floyd and other victims of racial violence drew about 1000 people to downtown Amherst and support from many of the passing cars on Sunday, May 31, 2020. —STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • Dorothy Cresswell, left, and Dusty Miller of Belchertown, both members of the First Congregational Church of Amherst and the Interfaith Opportunities Network, take part in a vigil organized by the ION at the Amherst Town Common on Sunday, May 31, 2020. —STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • Gareth and Sara Ross and their children Amon, 11, and Claire, 13, take part in a a vigil to express solidarity with George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery and other victims of racial violence that drew about 1000 people to the Amherst Town Common on Sunday, May 31, 2020. —STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • Anne Nugent of Pelham holds a sign up for passing cars on South Pleasant Street in Amherst during a rally to protest racial violence that drew about 1000 people to the area of the town common on Sunday, May 31, 2020. —STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • A crowd of about 1000 people lined both sides of South Pleasant Street and three sides of the town commoni for a vigil to express solidarity with George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery and other victims of racial violence on Sunday, May 31, 2020. —STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • University of Massachusetts seniors and Northampton natives Nathaniel Jones, left, and Rachel Moeller hold their signs up for the passing cars on South Pleasant Street in Amherst during a vigil to express solidarity with George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery and other victims of racial violence that drew about 1000 people to the town common on Sunday, May 31, 2020. —STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • Protestors listen to Smith College student Hawa Tarawally, back to camera, address them at the corner of South Pleasant and Main streets in Amherst during a rally against racial violence that drew about 1000 people to downtown on Sunday, May 31, 2020. —STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • A vigil organized by the Interfaith Opportunities Network to express solidarity with George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery and other victims of racial violence drew about 1000 people to the Amherst Town Common on Sunday, May 31, 2020. —STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • Smith College student Hawa Tarawally walks in South Pleasant Street in Amherst during a rally to protest racial violence that drew about 1000 people to downtown on Sunday, May 31, 2020. —STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • Tracy Faulstick, left foreground, of Shutesbury, and Amherst native William Rock, right, now of Holyoke, stand in the median of South Pleasant Street in Amherst during a peaceful protest against racial violence on Sunday, May 31, 2020. —STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • Protestors stand in the middle of South Pleasant Street in Amherst during a vigil to express solidarity with George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery and other victims of racial violence that drew about 1000 people to the Amherst Town Common on Sunday, May 31, 2020. —STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • Protestors raise their signs to passing cars from the median of South Pleasant Street in Amherst during a vigil to express solidarity with George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery and other victims of racial violence that drew about 1000 people to the Amherst Town Common on Sunday, May 31, 2020. —STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • Protestors cross South Pleasant Street in Amherst during a vigil organized by the Interfaith Opportunities Network to express solidarity with George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery and other victims of racial violence that drew about 1000 people to the Amherst Town Common on Sunday, May 31, 2020. —STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • Ann Leonard of Amherst said she made her sign in honor of Dorothy Day, the early twentieth century journalist who co-founded the "Catholic Worker". Leonard was taking part in a vigil on the Amherst Town Common on Sunday, May 31, 2020, to express solidarity with George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery and other victims of racial violence. —STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • A man leads a call and response of "No justice, no peace - with justice, comes peace" during a rally to protest racial violence that drew about 1000 people to the Amherst Town Common on Sunday, May 31, 2020. —STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

Published: 6/2/2020 8:52:19 AM

AMHERST — Honking car horns and beating drums echoed through the Town Common on Sunday as around 1,000 demonstrators gathered to protest police violence and racism.

“It’s time that what we do with our world is rethink the purpose of police,” said one protester, Trevor Baptiste, speaking into a bullhorn while standing in the median on Pleasant Street. “Their purpose should not be to kill.”

Sunday’s protest was just one of dozens of such gatherings across the country following the killing of George Floyd, a black man from Minneapolis who died after a white police officer, Derek Chauvin, pinned him to the ground by kneeling on his neck for nearly 9 minutes last Monday as Floyd begged for air. Chauvin was charged with third-degree murder Friday.

“Black Americans have to live in fear, constantly, to protect white Americans,” Hawa Tarawally, a student at Smith College, said into the bullhorn. “The police are doing this to protect you. Resist!”

The protest comes after nearly two months of a stay-at-home advisory and closure of nonessential businesses amid the COVID-19 pandemic. Many public spaces, such as the Town Common, have been largely empty during that period as people practice social distancing and avoid large gatherings.

“When it came to protesting police brutality and emphasizing the importance of black lives, I think people threw that to the wind,” said Mehlaqa Samdani, one of the protesters. “People were still being careful … But it was really good for the community to come together at this time.”

Protesters lined three sides of the Town Common on Sunday, spilling into the streets. Most were wearing masks and many sought to keep some distance between themselves and others.

Samdani noted that black and brown communities and leaders have already put forth policy recommendations for addressing racist policing and systemic inequality, but that those demands have gone unheard at many levels of government. She said that people should be pushing for changes in their communities.

“It’s a matter of political will and interest at the local level for those recommendations and those suggestions to be implemented,” she said.

Dora Tseng, a master’s student at the University of Massachusetts, was at the protest with her 1-year-old son, Fafa. As an immigrant and person of color, she said that she has seen how racism pervades every aspect of American life.

“There are some things that are more important than our daily routine,” she said. “That’s why we’re here.”

The demonstration was organized by the Interfaith Opportunities Network, or ION, an association of 23 congregations of a variety of faiths in the Pioneer Valley. Peter Blood, one of the co-conveners of ION, said the original idea for the event came from a member of the New England Peace Pagoda in Leverett, which is part of the interfaith network.

Members of the pagoda wanted to express solidarity for Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery and other black people who have been victims of racist violence, Blood said, and ION began mobilizing.

“What we are feeling is that white people have been silent too long, and have let black people and other people of color face the brunt of racism and violence,” Blood said. “And so we want people to be more vocal, and be more active.”

Protesters also gathered in Amherst on Saturday afternoon, chanting “Black Lives Matter” across from the Amherst police station.

“We want people to understand that this is not happening in the cities — this is not happening far away from us. This is happening in our communities, this is something that affects us everywhere — in the entire country,” said Bernice Kwade, one of the protest’s organizers.

Kwade, 21, said she and her roommates were wondering if there was going to be a protest in Amherst, and when the ION’s vigil — originally scheduled for Saturday — was postponed until Sunday at 3 p.m., they organized their own “black-led” event, as one organizer put it. Kwade said they put it all together at 9 a.m. Saturday.

“Why can’t we just create one? It’s not that hard to create a protest,” Kwade said. Despite its impromptu nature, the protest only grew as additional people bearing signs kept adding to the mass of people at 3 p.m., 30 minutes after it began.

One person wrote “BLM” (Black Lives Matter) on a white face mask, and others carried signs that read “Prosecute Racist Murderers,” “No Justice No Peace,” and “Abolish the Police,” to name a few. Cars passing by honked in solidarity with protesters who were posted on the sidewalk.

Minneapolis in the past week has seen widespread unrest, with police precincts, businesses and cars set ablaze during the night. Those protests and others, such as in Atlanta and New York City, saw law enforcement clash with protesters.

Saturday’s demonstration in Amherst was nonviolent, but still fueled by outrage over Floyd’s death and for other victims of racist violence. Violence is not a first action, Kwade said, but she noted that protesters in Minneapolis felt that unrest was the only way to grab the attention of those in power.

“We don’t come out here to plan to loot. We come out here to say that we want to be heard. And those people, in those spaces, felt like that’s what they needed to do to be heard,” Kwade said.

“Things don’t get done until you hurt the pockets of those in charge,” said another organizer, 21-year-old Athyah Henderson.

Holding a sign bearing names of some people who have died from racial violence was 26-year-old Briana Figarella of Goshen. She said she was “sick of seeing her black brothers and sisters being murdered.”

“I’m just fed up and done with the police brutality and no one being held accountable for it,” Figarella said. “As a white Latina, it’s my job to use my white privilege to show up and to just show I’m here in support.”

Another participant, Veronica Giana, 27, of Ludlow, said that Saturday’s event was her first protest.

“Lately, I’ve been having a sense, as being a mixed-race person in America, of responsibility to show up for my community … and show support and unity,” Giana said.

Michael Connors can be reached at mconnors@gazettenet.com. Dusty Christensen can be reached at dchristensen@gazettenet.com.


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