Why I Attended a New Bedford Black Lives Matter Protest
I'm really not the world's most political person. That's probably because my job is to have fun every day, and politics, while fun for some, is not a fun topic for me.
My aversion to getting political is probably one of the big reasons I've never attended a protest in my life – before tonight. But tonight's protest in New Bedford was different. A lot different.
What happened to George Floyd and the reaction since, to me, is not political. It morally goes against what any decent human being can stand for.
When I first saw the video of the police officer kneeling on George Floyd's neck, my initial reaction was, "Oh, no. Not AGAIN? How could this possibly have happened AGAIN?" How could we not have learned the lessons yet? But this was so much more than just one man who lost his life in a horrific display of injustice. That's just what was caught on camera.
I say this, by the way, as a fan of police. I've worried about police going to work then, and I worry about police officers going to work tonight.
I understand that the police in the video are human and that humans make mistakes, but this is a case of the police denying basic human rights to another human. It is beyond unacceptable. It is evil. Police that act like this not only destroy the lives of their victims and their families, they make the jobs of police all over America more dangerous. It is senseless.
I decided to attend tonight's Black Lives Matter protest in New Bedford because I think it's important to show solidarity with SouthCoast neighbors and residents that are saying "enough is enough." I am saying tonight that I am one of those people. I am an ally.
I wanted to attend tonight's protest because I am at a loss as to exactly what I can do to help. It can be too easy to have moments where you feel this is a hopeless cause. Then, you see people like New Bedford Police Chief Joe Cordeiro and Fairhaven Police Chief Mike Myers taking a knee in solidarity, shoulder to shoulder with the protesters.
This inspired me because it gave me a sense that there was a glimmer of hope. Some of the protesters, however, told me tonight that while they appreciated the symbolic gestures last night, hours later the police became heavy-handed with them at the peaceful protests. Tear gas was deployed and arrests were made at the peaceful protest.
That was last night. I can only tell you what I saw tonight. Gazelle and I spent hours at the protest, talking to many, and listening a lot. What I witnessed were thoughtful and sincere concerns expressed by young people in and around the city. I was incredibly proud of them. They are among New Bedford's best, and I hope that we can hear their voices and ideas for years and years to come. They have a lot to offer to all of us.
Some of the protesters, Tyrell Woodis-Pina, Shakira Duarte and Sade Todman spent a good half hour talking with me. They expressed that they have made a conscious decision to model the New Bedford protests after MLK's strategy. They believe that this is the best way to win over a majority of the rest of the population who may be only now really starting to understand their fight against racism. I've heard their wish list. I'm here to tell you, what they told me doesn't sound the least bit unreasonable.
One of the most dramatic moments that occurred while I was there was a dialogue between the protesters and a group of police officers. While it took place in the middle of Union Street and County Street, I was so drawn into the moment that I forgot that I was standing in the center of one of the busiest intersections of the city.
The police offered regrets to the young protesters about their actions from the night before, and the group seemed taken aback by the honesty of the officers. However, a stalemate developed when the crowd asked the officers to sign a petition asking for the firing of the three officers involved in the conflict that killed a 15-year-old New Bedford boy, Malcolm Gracia.
Regardless, I witnessed respectful and sincere dialogue between the protesters and the police representatives. I witnessed a group of people on both sides that appeared to want to work together to make New Bedford a safer place for all of its residents.
Talking to these bright, young minds gave me an incredible amount of hope that someway, somehow things can get better. I'm not sure if racism will ever be solved in any of our lifetimes, but I'm definitely sure that if we all work together, we can make things better than they are today. And tomorrow we can do it again. And again the next day.
We as a community need to stand up and put it on blast. We won't stand for racism here in New Bedford. Or Fall River. Or Dartmouth. Or Marion. We are the residents of the SouthCoast. If we allow it, it's our fault. Let's have it end tonight. We can control our little corner of the world. We need to make sure people who demonstrate racism feel very uncomfortable here. Their racism needs to be met with intolerance from all who live here.
Racism has no place here on the SouthCoast. It has no place in our country.
We are better than this.