Amherst protest against racial violence swells to more than 60

  • Protesters gathered across from the Amherst police station Saturday. STAFF PHOTO/MICHAEL CONNORS

  • Protesters gathered across from the Amherst police station Saturday. STAFF PHOTO/MICHAEL CONNORS

  • Protesters gathered across from the Amherst police station Saturday. STAFF PHOTO/MICHAEL CONNORS

  • Protesters gathered across from the Amherst police station Saturday. STAFF PHOTO/MICHAEL CONNORS

Staff Writer
Published: 5/30/2020 5:47:07 PM

AMHERST — Chants of “Black Lives Matter” rang through downtown Saturday afternoon as protesters wearing face masks stood across from the Amherst police station and spoke out against police brutality and racial violence.

More than 60 people gathered at Sweetser Park, joining a flurry of protests across the country following the death of George Floyd, a black man from Minneapolis who was pinned to the ground by Derek Chauvin, a white police officer, for nearly nine minutes last Monday as he begged desperately for air. Chauvin was charged with third-degree murder Friday.

“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 a vigil scheduled for Saturday near the Town Common 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 morning.

“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 their 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.

Chauvin, who arrested Floyd for allegedly using a counterfeit bill, pressed his knee into Floyd’s neck for 8 minutes, 46 seconds — including almost three minutes after Floyd’s body went limp. Chauvin’s arrest on murder and second-degree manslaughter charges failed to  head off violent nighttime protests around the country Friday.

Minneapolis in the past week has spiraled into destructive unrest, with police precincts, businesses and cars set ablaze during the night. Other protests, such as ones in Atlanta and New York City, saw protesters clash with law enforcement.

Saturday’s demonstration in Amherst was nonviolent, but still fueled by outrage over Floyd’s death and for other victims of racial 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.

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