BRATTLEBORO — Local students protested racism and police brutality after the death of George Floyd, who died last week after a police officer pressed a knee on his neck until he stopped breathing in Minneapolis.
"No one should be standing on that man's neck,"said Nakia Adams, 16, of Brattleboro. "How long was it? Nearly nine minutes and you couldn't get off that man's neck, and he was telling you that he could not breathe?"
Adams called the incident "inhumane" and said it saddens everyone gathered at the protest.
Mikaela Simms, diversity coordinator for Windham Southeast Supervisory Union, told the Reformer that Tuesday's event was organized by the AWARE group at the high school and led by people of color. After student speakers addressed the crowd gathered at the Common, the group marched to the Boys & Girls Club of Brattleboro on Flat Street and looped back around, with the Brattleboro Police Department temporarily closing roads to vehicle traffic.
"We're fighting for our future right now, guys," Adams said. "People of color, we shouldn't have to be in fear about the people who are supposed to be protecting us and instead they are killing us."
Adams told the Reformer a lot of the attendees have "strong opinions."
"This is what we believe in. This is our future," Adams added. "You gotta do what you gotta do."
Adams was one of the students who led efforts to hang Black Lives Matter flags at Brattleboro Area Middle School and the high school in 2018.
Antonio Ricardo, 18, of Brattleboro, told the Reformer it is important to have the protest because "all lives aren't going to matter until black lives matter and we're going to be part of the community, too."
Danaysa Vargas, 18, of Brattleboro, told the Reformer racism and police brutality need to be discussed even if people do not think it is an issue here.
Organizers hoped to see 60 to 70 attendees. But before the march began, Ricardo estimated there being at least 200.
"This is phenomenal," Ricardo told the Reformer. "This is insane."
The turnout surprised other organizers as well.
"I'm just so overcome with emotion," Adams said to the crowd. "You guys really came out here."
Adams advised attendees to stay 6 feet apart and wear face coverings. Spread out on the park, they cheered the speakers.
Calling for an end to injustice due to racism and white supremacy, Ricardo said, "If you are not infuriated then you are part of the problem."
Vargas urged attendees to "say his name."
"George Floyd," Vargas chanted a few times with the crowd.
The speakers talked for about 20 minutes before Adams closed by saying in part, "I am a colored youth of America. I will not be silenced anymore."
"If it takes me to organize more rallies like this, I will do so because I will not be silenced anymore," Adams said. "This is the time to speak up. Everyone needs to speak for what is right."
The protest joined others organized around the U.S. in the wake of Floyd's death. On Sunday, Main Street in Brattleboro was filled with activists who came out to condemn racism and police brutality.
Select Board Chairman Tim Wessel described the two events in Brattleboro as "major protests ... featuring a lot of people who are justifiably upset."
"Everyone has been coming together in support of free speech and the justice that everybody is seeking in these increasingly crazy times," he said during a board meeting Tuesday.
Town Manager Peter Elwell said both protests were kept safe as organizers coordinated with the police department.
"We're hopeful that people who organize additional events view our police department as a partner," he said.
Tuesday's protest was "passionate and well attended," added board member Brandie Starr.
Police Chief Michael Fitzgerald expressed a willingness to participate in a public forum about the department's process for hiring officers and how it maintains a dialogue with the community.
Reach staff writer Chris Mays at firstname.lastname@example.org and at @CMaysBR on Twitter.