Update: Student-led protest and march planned for Saturday in Concord

  • Ella McCown, a rising junior at Concord High School holding a sign for the march on Saturday, with a few of her fellow students who helped organize the event at the State House on Thursday, June 4, 2020. GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

  • Fellow Concord High School students hug Ella McCown, center, at the State House on Thursday. The group is organizing a protest on Saturday. GEOFF FORESTER / Monitor staff

  • The students from Concord High School who helped organize the Black Lives Matter march this coming Saturday at the front of the State House on Thursday, June 4, 2020. GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

Monitor staff
Published: 6/4/2020 3:24:04 PM

What started out as a single Concord High student’s plan to spend her birthday standing beside the State House with a sign about police brutality, has quickly growing into a much larger event.

Ella McCown, a rising junior at Concord High School, initially texted just a few friends to organize a day of demonstration against police brutality. But now, 15 to 20 Concord High School students as well as community members from the local activist group Change for Concord, have joined in to help organize a larger event on Saturday afternoon to protest police brutality on unarmed black citizens, including the Memorial Day death of Minneapolis resident George Floyd.

Floyd died after being held down by a white police officer, who kept a knee on his neck. “You’re killing me,” Floyd pleaded. “I can’t breathe,” he repeated for minutes before he died.

His death has led to massive protests across the country; many were peaceful, some turned violent.

Ayi D’Almeida, a member of Change for Concord who graduated from Concord High School in 2011, said he plans to protest Saturday because he’s tired of hearing about cases of police brutality and killings.

“The issue that is injustice and police brutality, it’s not unique to any community. Its nationwide,” D’Almeida said. “Personally, I’ve experienced a lot of police harassment here in Concord. I think it is important for us to organize here in Concord and put our voices out for changes that we think are necessary in the Concord Police Department.”

The young organizers say they want their protest to be a peaceful opportunity to show their support for the bigger protests that are happening nationwide and focus on the need for changes here.

“Watching people putting their lives out there and protecting others from the evident police brutality that is going on, that is what is motivating me,” said McCown.

Lidia Yen, a 2017 graduate of Concord High School, and member of Change for Concord, said she was motivated to help organize the event because of her own experiences with racism and her desire to create change.

“Even though Concord is a small town, there’s still a lot of people here that experience systemic racism and blatant racism,” said Yen, 21. “And I feel like that really needs to change, and a lot of people who don’t experience it, really don’t realize its happening.”

Floyd’s death and the ensuing protest have opened more eyes to the reality of racism, which is a lesson the organizers want to deliver in Concord.

“I really hope that people somehow become more aware of how serious this issue is, and how long it’s been going on for,” said Charlotte Goble, a rising senior at Concord High School. “That’s something we want to get across, and stand up for black people and people of color and amplify their voices instead of drowning them out.”

The protest is expected to run for two hours, from 1 to 3 p.m. Protesters will meet at Memorial Field and and will march to the State House, where there will be speeches from local black activists and students. At 2, there will be a moment of silence in honor of those who have died as a result of police brutality. Protesters will then march from the State House back to Memorial Field.

Similar protests across the country have elicited forceful responses from local law enforcement officials, especially when vandalism or property damage occurs. McCown said part of the organizing process has been recruiting volunteer “peacekeepers,” citizens ages 18 and older whose job it is to keep the protest calm and orderly. Right now, the group has four peacekeepers lined up, but organizers expect more to volunteer before Saturday.

“We ask that no one initiates any rioting, looting, nothing like that,” McCown said. “It’s going to be a pretty peaceful protest.”

Yen said she knows some acquaintances who have told her they are not supportive of Saturday’s protest, because of protests in other parts of the country that have turned violent.

“Some have said things like, “most Black Lives Matter protests have been violent so I don’t support it.’” Yen said. “They just connect protests with violence. A lot of protests have not been violent.”

Concord Police Chief Brad Osgood said his department has been reviewing    news coverage of protests around the country to examine the way other police departments are handling crowd control.

“We think it’s important to reach out to the organizers to determine what their expectations are in terms of number of people, what locations they’ll be going to and how we respond by safely getting the people who are part of the event from point A to point B,” Osgood said.

On Wednesday, Republican Gov. Chris Sununu continued his support of peaceful protests being held around New Hampshire, despite the stay-at-home order.

“I’m not here to be judge and jury over one message   or another but the George Floyd issue in particular hits home with me and I think it hits home with a lot of people,” he said.

Organizers are asking attendees to wear masks due to COVID-19. For those who don’t have protective equipment, there will be masks, gloves and hand sanitizer available at the event.

Rosecel Arevalo, 23, another member of Change for Concord who graduated from Concord High School in 2015, said the experiences that her immigrant friends have had with harassment from local law enforcement is making her eager to protest.

“A lot of them face similar experiences with police, not knowing that they have people that have their back and will support them,” Arevalo said. “It is important to support them and have them bring their voice out in this issue.”

Data from the Concord Monitor and the Washington Post shows that 45 people have been shot by police in New Hampshire since 2006. Most of these cases have been deemed justified by the attorney general.

“New Hampshire does have a pretty bad past on police brutality, and we thought this was crucial,” Goble said. “It’s about time we created something for Concord to participate in.”

 

Staff writer Alyssa Dandrea contributed to this report. Material from the  Associated Press was included.




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