Lancaster city protest 053020

Protesters make their way up Prince Street against the flow of traffic on Saturday, May 30, 2020.

More than 1,000 people peacefully protested in the streets of Lancaster city on Saturday, part of a national wave of rallies sparked by the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis. 

Floyd died after an officer kneeled on his neck for eight minutes, according to charging documents. Saturday’s rallies across the United States followed five nights of unrest that has led to National Guard deployment in several major cities.

Saturday’s protest was the first in Lancaster County surrounding the issue of police brutality. Attendees said it was “the first of many,” and another is planned for Sunday. Protests in Philadelphia, Pittsburgh and Harrisburg turned violent, with police cars burning in Philly, at least two police officers hospitalized in Harrisburg and curfews implemented in both cities. 

“In the last three days, we’ve been working tirelessly to get people out here and protest peacefully police brutality in all states and here in Lancaster,” said Matt Brallier, one of the organizers of Saturday’s protest. “The most important take-away for everyone is to realize that Black lives matter, and we’re in this together.”

Protesters spanned generations and races. They circled the city for five and a half hours, gathering in front of the Lancaster City Police Department, Penn Square and Lancaster County Prison. Police escorts flanked protesters, who stopped traffic along the way. 

“No justice, no peace!” and “I can’t breathe,” they chanted, echoing Floyd’s last words as the officer knelt on his neck. The officer, Derek Chauvin, is charged with manslaughter and third-degree murder, and he was fired from the Minneapolis Police Department.

Many were wearing masks, but some were not. There was very little social distancing occurring, while the county remains under a stay-at-home order from Gov. Tom Wolf until June 5.

Protesters approached two Lancaster city police officers standing outside their squad car and challenged them directly “to feel their community, we are speaking to you, we’re asking to see if [they] will … show their compassion for their community,” as one protester who declined to give her name said on the microphone to the officers. The officers responded to the protester, but their responses were not audible.

Lancaster City Police Chief Jarred Berkihiser said during the protest that he was proud of his officers for how they conducted themselves. Efforts to reach the chief Saturday night for additional comment were unsuccessful.

Emotions boiled, though, during the peaceful protest. When officers were moving a police squad car to the basement of the department building, protesters followed. One officer pulled out some pepper spray, but did not fire it, and protesters quickly drew a line between them and police to allow them to secure the car.

Crystal Hawkins, of Lancaster, attended the protest to support her friends and neighbors who are people of color, and plans to attend again on Sunday. She is a member of LGBTQ community and referenced past protests to gain equality, like the Stonewall Riots.

Tremaine Bowman, 26, of York, said he traveled to Lancaster city for the protest because “if we’re not willing to step out and walk Lancaster city, then there will be no change.” 

More than 1,000 protesters, holding signs and yelling chants, walked through Lancaster city Saturday afternoon, following suit with dozens of cities across the nation after George Floyd's death on May 25 in Minneapolis.A police officer kneeled on Floyd’s neck for eight minutes, according to charging documents.

The Rev. Edward Bailey of Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Church Lancaster encouraged attendees to take their demonstration home with them, and speak up when those around them say racist jokes or racist comments.

“I really appreciated the young people’s energy today, I just wish they would stop by the elders and the people who have been in the fight for years and at least, even if they don’t want to listen to them and do what they ask, at least get some information from them,” Bailey added. “Because we’ve been here, we’ve done this. We know what works and what doesn’t.”

Mayor Danene Sorace said she maintained contact with protesters and city police throughout the day but was not in attendance.

“I just really appreciate that the community was able to come together peacefully, and our police officers were able to create space to make that happen,” Sorace added. “That’s five hours -- that’s significant, and I think it speaks to the level of hurt and anger and just all of the feelings.”

Lancaster city council President Ismael Smith-Wade-El attended the protest to stand with those protesting in Minneapolis and to fulfill his duty to his constituents.

“We are out here today because a black man was murdered and because there is persistent police injustice and because we acknowledge, as Martin Luther King said, the connection of injustice anywhere to injustice everywhere,” he added.

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