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Large peaceful protest in Concord calls for justice

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  • Demonstrators start their march to the State House from Memorial Field on Saturday.

  • Rally organizers marches into the State House Plaza with her friends at the Black Lives Matter rally on Saturday. GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

  • New Hampshire State Police Lt. Mo Sampson (left) and Concord Police Deputy Chief John Thomas bow their heads as demonstrators take a knee at the police station on Green Street on Saturday. The crowd chanted for them to take a knee with them, but they chose to bow their heads.

  • Organizer Samuel Alicea pauses while he reads the names of the black men and women who have been killed during altercations with police at the Black Lives Matter rally at the State House on Saturday, June 6, 2020. GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

  • Organizer Samuel Alicea reads the names of the black men and women who have been killed during altercations with police at the Black Lives Matter rally at the State House on Saturday, June 6, 2020. GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

  • Black Lives Matter demonstrators take a knee in front of the Concord Police station on their way to the State House during a rally Saturday. GEOFF FORESTER photos / Monitor staff

  • Demonstrators filled the State House plaza during a peaceful protest on Saturday. GEOFF FORESTER photos / Monitor staff

  • Part of the Black Lives Matter crowd at the State House Plaza in Concord on Saturday afternoon, June 6, 2020. GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

  • Part of the Black Lives Matter crowd at the State House Plaza in Concord on Saturday afternoon, June 6, 2020. GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

  • Part of the Black Lives Matter rally at the State House on Saturday, June 6, 2020. GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

  • Samrawit Silva looks up at Concord Deputy Chief John Thomas as the Black Lives Matters demonstrators chant ‘Take a Knee’ as the crowd stopped at the Concord police station on Saturday, June 6, 2020. GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

Monitor staff
Published: 6/6/2020 4:27:16 PM

Chants of “Black Lives Matter” and “I can’t breathe” rang through the air Saturday afternoon as a crowd of well over a thousand New Hampshire residents assembled for a peaceful protest through Concord.

The student-led rally was the latest in a growing movement against police brutality on unarmed black citizens following the death of George Floyd, who was killed by a Minneapolis police officer.

In Concord, the protesters rallied first at Memorial Field before marching through town to the State House, chanting and holding signs for racial justice.

“Silence is violence,” one protester’s sign read. “Communication, not asphyxiation,” read another.

Protests have been happening across the country this week, prompted by the death of Floyd, a black Minneapolis resident who died May 25 after being held down by a white police officer, who kneeled on his neck for more than eight minutes.

At Memorial Field, Samuel Alicea, 20, and Rose Fornor, 16, two of the protest organizers, welcomed the crowd and told everybody to stay hydrated, wear masks and keep the protest peaceful.

“We will maintain an attitude of respect and an open mind toward everyone we encounter,” Alicea said. “We will use no violence, verbal or physical, toward any person.”

The group then headed down South Fruit Street, Clinton Street, South Street and Green Street on the way to the State House Plaza. Volunteer community “peacekeepers,” clad in yellow vests, walked in the front and on the outskirts of the crowd, directing people where to go.

Some officers with the Concord Police Department stood along the route watching, some on bicycles. Two Concord Police cruisers drove slowly down the street ahead of the marchers, lights flashing.

When the marching protesters reached Green Street, organizers led the crowd in kneeling for 30 seconds in front of the Concord Police Department building. Organizers asked two police officers and a state trooper standing in front of the station to join them on the ground, and a tense scene ensued while protesters chanted “take a knee.” The officers remained standing to boos from the crowd.

“We won’t forget,” the crowd chanted.

When the marchers reached State House Plaza, the crowd encircled the steps of the State House and everyone crouched down to listen to speeches by local black activists and community members.

Alicea read the names of people who have died as a result of police brutality, including George Floyd, Walter Scott and Freddie Gray. Alicea became visibly emotional as he observed 12 seconds of silence between each name.

Madeline Swenson, a Merrimack Valley High School student, performed the song Rise Up by Andra Day for the crowd. She then spoke about being racially profiled as a young black student.

“My own parents are scared for me to get my license, because they don’t want me to get pulled over for an unknown reason and get shot because I am pulling out my license and registration,” Swenson, 16, told the crowd. “My two parents had to sit down and ask me ‘what are you going to do when a cop pulls you over?’”

Keisha Johnson spoke to the crowd about reading To Kill a Mockingbird in middle school, and recognizing the parallels to today’s world.

“I love New Hampshire with all my heart and my soul, but as a state we are not innocent,” Johnson said. “Brutality and justice rears its ugly head in many different forms, but each one is just as terrible. We may be able to drink from the same water fountains today, but we can’t walk down the street feeling safe.”

Alicea said in an interview after the event, that the protest organizers were not expecting such a large crowd, and were happy the event attracted so many people.

“We were all very surprised when the crowds kept pouring into the lawn. Even when I was walking I would turn around and I could see there were people for hundreds of yards,” Alicea said.

Alicea also said he was pleased that the demonstration stayed peaceful throughout.

“I am really glad that what we had planned and what we had in mind, the protest has surpassed it,” Alicea said. “It was incredible.”

Alicea made headlines during his time at Merrimack Valley High School in 2016 when he began taking a knee during the national anthem of his team’s football games. Alicea said at the time that he was protesting police brutality and racial injustice. His family says Alicea left Merrimack Valley High following threats.

Concord’s protest began to disperse at 3 p.m., as some protesters marched back to Memorial Field and others scattered. One protester, who was unaffiliated with the event organizers, climbed the Daniel Webster statue in front of the State House to hang a protest sign around its neck.

A group of about 10 people standing on North Main Street with “Make America Great Again” hats and Trump flags caused tensions to rise for a few minutes, as some marchers coming from the Black Lives Matter protest encircled them and Concord Police and volunteer peacekeepers formed a circle between the Trump supporters and the crowd. Some verbal arguments ensued, but everyone soon dispersed.

Other protests have taken place in Manchester, Keene, Portsmouth, Hanover, Conway and Hampton this week. All of them have been peaceful, though about 13 people were arrested, most for “disorderly conduct” later in the day, after Manchester’s event ended.

Fornor, a Concord High student, said she is happy all of the organizing efforts paid off.

“I am feeling really proud,” Fornor said after the protest. I am really proud of everybody’s hard work. Especially all of the organizers putting this thing together. I feel that we are definitely going to change history if we keep doing what were doing.”




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