The chief of Lancaster city police and several other officers joined protesters on their third day of demanding justice for George Floyd, a black man whose death while in police custody set off a week of nationwide protests.
Many, however, felt as if Lancaster city police were simply saving face after Sunday’s protest ended with five people arrested and several more pepper sprayed.
“It feels like damage control,” 19-year-old Amir Lynch said. Lynch is one of the protest organizers.
“But I’m not trying to take away from the fact that the police are here,” he added. “We’re grateful for that because they’re showing that they were wrong.”
A handful of officers — not including Jarrad P. Berkihiser, chief of police — first joined the crowd around 1 p.m., after the protesters had made their first loop around the city and returned to the Lancaster city police station.
The officers talked with the protesters, telling them that they, too, were against police brutality. They walked with the protesters in the middle of the street – up West Chestnut, to Charlotte to King to the Lancaster County Prison then back downtown via Orange.
Sgt. Donald Morant said he was walking as a black man, a police officer and a member of the community. Morant spoke with one protester about the need for having more minorities on the police force.
The police force, Morant said, should be reflective of the community.
The protesters continued marching until they reached the Lancaster County Courthouse, where Berkihiser met the crowd for a conversation.
Berkihiser began the conversation by saying that the Lancaster city police department is “absolutely disgusted and outraged” by the death of Floyd, and said that he and Lancaster city Mayor Danene Sorace have been working to make positive changes within the Lancaster city police department, as well as within the city.
“We’re working on real change,” he said. “That’s why we have the officers with you today.”
Several protesters interrupted Berkihiser as he spoke, questioning why police used pepper spray on protesters Sunday and asking for concrete answers on what he meant by “real change.”
“What are you going to do to change anything?” a protester yelled.
The police chief cited de-escalation training and new, more diverse hires as ways that the police department is working to improve.
Berkihiser and Lancaster city councilman Xavier Garcia-Molina, who spoke later in the afternoon, also encouraged protesters to attend council meetings and the city’s Community Police Working Group meetings, which they both said were poorly attended by Lancaster city residents but could create positive impact within the community.
(The city’s Community Police Working Group meetings are currently on hold, however, due to the pandemic).
Garcia-Molina mentioned protesters could attend a virtual town hall Tuesday evening on community policing. Monday evening, Garcia-Molina also told protesters to bring a list of demands at Tuesday's city council meeting.
“We got to make changes but we need to work together,” he said.
Later in the afternoon, protesters gathered in the middle of Prince St., and kneeled while chanting "What was his name?" "George Floyd," "What was his crime?" "Being black."
Berkihiser briefly kneeled as well.
Jessica Lopez, one of the leaders of the protest, said Monday’s demonstration was much different from Sunday’s due to the collaboration with police.
She initially brought her son to Sunday’s protest, but quickly sent him home after she got the feeling tensions between protesters and police officers would escalate.
“The second day (of protesting) was war,” she said.
Due to the much smaller police presence Monday, Lopez said she felt comfortable bringing him along to the protest.
“The police took an oath to protect and serve,” she said. “...to never hurt us, never violate us, to never make us feel threatened, anxious, scared.
“I’m tired of feeling like that,” she said.
Reporter Dan Nephin contributed to this story.