Black Lives Matter rally in Manchester seeks justice, peace

  • Black Lives Matter supporters march up and down Elm Street in Manchester after meeting at Veterans Memorial Park on Saturday evening, July 16, 2016. (ELIZABETH FRANTZ / Monitor staff)

  • Black Lives Matter supporters march up and down Elm Street in Manchester after meeting at Veterans Memorial Park on Saturday evening, July 16, 2016. (ELIZABETH FRANTZ / Monitor staff)

  • Event organizer Tyrell Whitted holds up a sign reading "black lives matter" after a march supporting the movement in Manchester on Saturday evening, July 16, 2016. The group marched up and down Elm Street after meeting at Veterans Memorial Park. (ELIZABETH FRANTZ / Monitor staff)

  • Ten-year-old Tavon Whitted, brother to organizer Tyrell Whitted, holds up a sign that reads “pro-justice not anti-police” during a march supporting the Black Lives Matter movement in Manchester on Saturday evening. The group marched up and down Elm Street. Photos by ELIZABETH FRANTZ / Monitor staff

  • Black Lives Matter supporters march up and down Elm Street in Manchester after meeting at Veterans Memorial Park on Saturday evening, July 16, 2016. (ELIZABETH FRANTZ / Monitor staff)

  • Mary Ann Rogers of Manchester chants during a march supporting the Black Lives Matter movement in Manchester on Saturday evening, July 16, 2016. The group marched up and down Elm Street after meeting at Veterans Memorial Park. (ELIZABETH FRANTZ / Monitor staff)

  • A man briefly confronts Black Lives Matter supporters.

  • Anzura Gakwaya, 18, of Manchester holds up a red sign that reads “scared cops scare me” during a march supporting the Black Lives Matter movement in Manchester on Saturday evening, July 16, 2016. The group marched up and down Elm Street after meeting at Veterans Memorial Park. (ELIZABETH FRANTZ / Monitor staff)

  • Black Lives Matter supporters march up and down Elm Street in Manchester after meeting at Veterans Memorial Park on Saturday evening, July 16, 2016. (ELIZABETH FRANTZ / Monitor staff)

  • Black Lives Matter supporters march up and down Elm Street in Manchester after meeting at Veterans Memorial Park on Saturday evening, July 16, 2016. (ELIZABETH FRANTZ / Monitor staff)

  • Black Lives Matter supporters march up and down Elm Street in Manchester after meeting at Veterans Memorial Park on Saturday evening, July 16, 2016. (ELIZABETH FRANTZ / Monitor staff)

  • Black Lives Matter supporters march up and down Elm Street in Manchester after meeting at Veterans Memorial Park on Saturday evening, July 16, 2016. (ELIZABETH FRANTZ / Monitor staff)

  • Black Lives Matter supporters march up and down Elm Street in Manchester after meeting at Veterans Memorial Park on Saturday evening, July 16, 2016. (ELIZABETH FRANTZ / Monitor staff)

  • Black Lives Matter supporters march up and down Elm Street in Manchester after meeting at Veterans Memorial Park on Saturday evening, July 16, 2016. (ELIZABETH FRANTZ / Monitor staff)

  • Green party presidential candidate Jill Stein chants during a march supporting the Black Lives Matter movement in Manchester on Saturday evening, July 16, 2016. The group marched up and down Elm Street after meeting at Veterans Memorial Park. (ELIZABETH FRANTZ / Monitor staff)

  • Black Lives Matter supporters march up and down Elm Street in Manchester after meeting at Veterans Memorial Park on Saturday evening, July 16, 2016. (ELIZABETH FRANTZ / Monitor staff)

  • Event organizer Tyrell Whitted walks in front during a march supporting the Black Lives Matter movement in Manchester on Saturday evening, July 16, 2016. The group marched up and down Elm Street after meeting at Veterans Memorial Park. (ELIZABETH FRANTZ / Monitor staff)

  • Members of a group called the Bros leaves Veterans Memorial Park after briefly confronting Black Lives Matter supporters following a march up and down Elm Street in Manchester on Saturday evening, July 16, 2016. (ELIZABETH FRANTZ / Monitor staff)

  • Black Lives Matter supporters march up and down Elm Street in Manchester after meeting at Veterans Memorial Park on Saturday evening, July 16, 2016. (ELIZABETH FRANTZ / Monitor staff)

  • Black Lives Matter supporters march up and down Elm Street in Manchester after meeting at Veterans Memorial Park on Saturday evening, July 16, 2016. (ELIZABETH FRANTZ / Monitor staff)

Monitor staff
Published: 7/17/2016 12:01:57 AM

As he marched down Elm Street in Manchester on Saturday night, 10-year-old Tavon Whitted held a large white posterboard with a slogan written in black Sharpie: “Pro-Justice, Not Anti-Police.”

Tavon walked alongside more than 200 people, all chanting and waving signs to support the Black Lives Matter movement. He was with his mom, his grandma and his two-year-old sister, Amelia. But he came to support his older brother.

Tyrell Whitted, a recent graduate of Manchester Central High School, organized the peaceful protest. The 18-year-old activist said what began as a couple social media posts grew to become something much bigger.

“It’s a big goal – justice reform,” Whitted said. “We’re doing this in support of the rest of the country. I’m doing this because it’s important to me, for my family’s sake and myself and for others.”

The Manchester Police Department blocked off several blocks of Elm Street for the duration of the protest. For almost two hours – from 6:30 p.m. until a little after 8 p.m. – no traffic was allowed through the downtown area. Officers patrolled the area and two squadron cars drove with the marchers, one in the front of the group and one in the back.

This cooperation was a statement of its own, Whitted said. He met with the police chief earlier in the week to discuss safety measures at the protest and other ways to increase dialogue between the black community and police.

A similar Black Lives Matter protest in Portland, Maine, on Friday night ended in 18 arrests, after protesters clashed with bystanders and blocked traffic.

“I’m proud of this city tonight,” Whitted said about the Manchester rally.

Black Lives Matter began as a hashtag in 2012 and has since transformed into a national movement and organization, both working to create conversation and initiate policy change that promotes the value of black lives in American society. Though Manchester is not one of the official organization chapters listed on the Black Lives Matter website, many identify with the cause, especially in the wake of multiple race-related killings across the country.

Whitted posted a tweet on July 8 asking his followers if anyone was “down” to go hold up signs and protest on Elm Street that night. He was surprised when close to 50 people, friends and strangers alike, showed up to join him.

“Last week’s march was really good, everybody was positive,” Whitted said. “So we figured, why not do it again?”

So he created a Facebook event for the second protest. That’s where Judy Elliott, of Cantebury, found out about the march.

“I think we have a long historical pattern where black people have been subject to violence,” she said. “And we’ve got to put a stop to it.”

Protesters were told not to bring weapons or alcohol. The Facebook event instructed protesters what to do if confronted by police or bystanders. It also told marchers to bring posters and wear black.

Tom Coffman came from Concord bringing his weather-beaten sign, which has been held at a number of protests before. He just adds things to it, depending on what’s going on.

This time, “Black Lives Matter” was stapled to the bottom of the yardstick.

“These people voted with their heart to come down here and ask for an America that hasn’t turned traffic stops into capital crimes against blacks and minorities,” he said. “So why didn’t other people vote with their heart to do the same?”

Alicia Sims, of Manchester, said she came to speak about something that holds a special place in her heart.

“My mom is black, my daughter’s black, my husband’s black. I’m half-black,” she said. “So it matters to us, everybody’s life matters.”

The officer in charge declined to comment. But locals said they’ve seen the police block off streets in Manchester for parades and protests before.

“There’s always something going on here,” said Joe Novello, the chef at Thirsty Moose Taproom.

Novello had came out to the restaurant’s outdoor seating area to talk to customers and watch passerbys – protesters and the people playing Pokémon Go. He said he didn’t know the event was going to be happening beforehand, but he had no problem with it.

Others coming downtown for dinner were in for a surprise as well. Becca Kitchen said she was just going out for dinner and ice cream. But she got to see “democracy in action,” too.

“I wouldn’t say it’s affected our night,” she added.

One group of about 20 men stood on the corner watching the marchers. They called themselves the “Bros” and said they were there to protest the protest.

“It scares people,” Buddy Langlois said. “There’s no racist cops in Manchester, New Hampshire. They’ve got the wrong state.”

Langlois said the “Bros” have been a Manchester-based group for years. He said they came out Saturday to make sure their brothers – some Manchester police officers and business owners – were safe.

“I think this is stupid, especially here,” he said. “We got brothers that are gay, brothers that are black, brothers that are Spanish, brothers that are Asian. All lives matter.”

A few bystanders carried weapons, which made some of the protesters feel a little uneasy, said Marcia Gerber, a marcher from Manchester.

“I’m impressed by the police. It’s rather scary, I’m seeing some negative things from the sidewalk,” she said.

Gerber said all lives do matter – but that’s not what she thinks is at the core of the movement.

“I really think people can work together,” she said. “I really think all people do matter, but people with black lives are encountering problems – problems that we should be able to get past by now.”

Eileen Ehlers, of Hooksett, said she feels the same way.

“I think we’re all part of one world,” she said. “And if we don’t stand up for Black Lives Matter, who’s going to stand up for me?”

With election season drawing nearer, the event drew political attention. Jill Stein, the Green Party presidential candidate, was in the Granite State collecting signatures for her petition. She came out to support the protest and what it represents.

“I think it’s so beautiful to see this outpouring of support for justice and to end violence and to end racism,” she said. “And the events of this past week … just made the point how we cannot sit back and let this happen.

“To see this incredible turnout here of people of all colors and all creeds coming together to say Black Lives Matter – we need this not just in words, but in actions.”

For Chelsea True, the meaning of the protest extended beyond the New Hampshire borders.

“If we can even convert one person to realize what the actual cause of Black Lives Matter is and why we actually need support for the black community, it could make a world of difference,” said True, a 19-year-old who moved to the state from the suburbs of Detroit about a year ago.

“If we show in every state that we are in solidarity across the country, then people are going to get the real message,” she added.

Whitted, who will attend Plymouth State University in the fall, said he doesn’t quite know what the next step is – but it will certainly be working toward permanent change.

“Maybe petitions, maybe talking to elected officials,” he said. “We’re getting our message heard.”

Whitted’s mom, Shaunte, called her son a “quiet person.”

“And he pretty much did this all on his own,” she said.

As he watched his older brother speak to the large crowd gathered, Tavon Whitted smiled.

“I’m proud of him,” he said.

(Katie Galioto can be reached at 369-3302, kgalioto@cmonitor.com or on Twitter @katiegalioto.)

 




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