PLATTSBURGH - Plattsburgh and the North Country joined dozens of other cities across the country in raising their voice in support of justice and racial equality.
Hundreds of people packed Trinity Park and City Hall Place Saturday demanding an end to racism and police brutality in a peaceful display of community activism.
"You all are amazing to be peaceful and protesting to show that you can be for a movement, be for something important, and you don't have to be made out to be thugs," Ruby Roach, one of the speakers at the Black Lives Matter, No Justice, No Peace protest, said.
'NOT A PROBLEM'
Roach, 28, of Plattsburgh, said education is the key to changing people's minds about racism and inequality. She said Saturday's turnout was encouraging.
"You are not a problem," Roach told the crowd.
"People who are against this are the problem."
As she was finishing up her remarks, Roach was handed a bouquet of multi-colored flowers by a fellow protester, signifying the colors of the rainbow and how the world is all melded together.
"I know we all understand frustration and anger," Roach said.
"But there has to be a better way. America needs to do better."
'SAY HIS NAME'
Throughout the brief speeches from the steps of City Hall the crowd periodically erupted with chants such as "No justice, no peace," "Say his name," and "I can't breath."
The chants were in recognition of the death of black Minneapolis man George Floyd.
Floyd died after Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin held his knee against Floyd's neck for eight minutes and 46 seconds as Floyd pleaded for his life, saying numerous times that he could not breathe.
Chauvin has been arrested and charged with murder, and three officers who helped hold Floyd down or did nothing to stop the incident, have also been arrested.
Most in the crowd in Plattsburgh Saturday were wearing face masks due to the coronavirus, but it was difficult for most to maintain social distancing although it appeared that some people were keeping it in mind.
Volunteers wandering the event occasionally shouted reminders to groups to leave space between each other.
Many in the crowd demanded police reform at all levels in order to stop injustice.
Plattsburgh Mayor Colin Read said the city will be proactive in developing policies to ensure fair treatment by police.
"You've done a wonderful job of raising the attention in our community and our community is listening," Read said.
"You are going to see some significant modifications of our polices to make sure this could never happen here."
Read, who later estimated the crowd size at between 1,000 and 2,000 people, read a proclamation approved by the Common Council pledging the city's commitment to improve race relations and end racism.
The Council also declared it "George Floyd Week" in recognition, and in hopes that such a tragic event never occurs again.
"This city's reforms of our social institutions, our policing, our civic discourse, must begin immediately so that memory of this recent tragic murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis will never be forsaken," the proclamation read in part.
Jennifer Tallon told the crowd that improving relations must begin with a conversation.
"We do need to have those conversations," Tallon said.
"It is our hope that conversations can be had, which will bring reforms, which will bring justice."
A woman who said she grew up in Saranac who declined to give her name, said she has been the target of racism in her life in the North Country, and it needs to end.
She said the area may seem to be somewhat diverse because of the students who attend SUNY Plattsburgh, but it is deceiving.
"I feel it is false advertisement and reckless to sell the illusion that this town will welcome them with open arms," she said.
"Why it is that so many students of color express feeling unsafe off college grounds? They leave their families, their friends to come here to a place that needs extreme change.
"How can anyone take pride in a place that is only safe for certain people and not the rest. I fear we are a fake safe place and the college is a pair of rose-colored glasses."
TALK WITH CHIEF
Shortly before noon, the large crowd made its way down Margaret Street and then Pine Street to the Police Station chanting and hoisting signs along the way.
At the station, Police Chief Levi Ritter, Read and event organizer David Yocum led the crowd in a powerful eight-minute and 46 seconds of silence while kneeling to honor Floyd.
In the hot sun, people knelt in the middle of Pine Street, in the Plattsburgh Middle School athletic field across the street, and in the station parking lot.
When it was over, the crowd dispersed, but some stayed behind to talk with Ritter.
During the impromptu discussion, Ritter was asked if he thought the officers that were charged with Floyd's death were murderers.
"I think they're murderers," Ritter said in agreement, adding that choke holds are not in the department's policies.
SO MUCH LOVE
Yocum was very pleased that the event drew such a large turnout and was peaceful.
"This is more than I thought it would be," he said.
"I was expecting 200 people. There is so much love in this town."
Travis Gorham also was pleased with the event.
"It was a tremendous turnout. Listen, the community is coming out to support one another and that is what we need to start doing," Gorham, 37, said.
"People are speaking out, we need to be heard, and things are getting to where they need to be."
The father of six says he remains hopeful that things will get better."
"You've got to be hopeful. I have six children. If you are not hopeful, you're doomed," he said
"Hopefully today across the country is a spark to some change for everybody, and some hope. I'm praying and keeping my fingers crossed."
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