What started as a small mask and glove handout led by Councilman Omari Shakur transformed into a peaceful protest that created a sense of unity and strength throughout the diverse community of Newburgh.
“I was tagged into this,” said Shakur. “I’m standing with the protestors. I’m standing with the residents of the city and that’s why I’m here.”
Shakur did not have direct involvement in organizing the protest.
Recently, the nation was struck by multiple accusations of police brutality. One of the most significant cases being the murder of George Floyd. Floyd died after an incident involving four Minneapolis police officers on May 25. Derek Chauvin, the officer who pinned Floyd down, was recently charged with third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter. The other officers are currently under investigation.
“My soul cried out for that man that was lynched that day for the world to see. This has been going on for so long but there was no cameras to let the world see what was going on. Now there’s cameras,” said Dawanda Brantley, who was on the verge of tears.
This incident in particular spiked a number of nation-wide protests. It also struck an all too familiar chord in the tumultuous history of African Americans feeling rejected and mistreated by the nation.
“Our blood is just like anyone else’s blood, we’re no different from any person or race in this whole country, but we’re treated like we’re nothing,” said an emotional Brantley. “We’re angry, we’re tired. A change has to come, a change must come!”
Although nation wide media coverage has promoted an image of destruction and chaos in some protests, Saturday’s protest in Newburgh presented an image of unity in peace. A second rally took place Saturday evening at the Newburgh Waterfront, in which luminaries marked with the names of victims were lit and placed along the walkway in front of the bust of Dr. Martin Luther King.
“People in the other cities around this nation are burning their own homes and community,” said Mayor Torrance Harvey on Facebook on May 30. “We must maintain peace in our streets. We hear the voices of injustice against black men..We must not allow anger and violence to lead our fight! We must be strategic in our fight!”
“I do support peaceful protest but I do not think it should stop there,” said Councilman Anthony Grice. Grice believes more legislation needs to be put into place for preventing police brutality. He believes that police officers do have a right to privacy, but when it comes to work-related offenses, the community needs to know.
“We also need to get to a point in our community where we are policing ourselves,” said Grice. “Where we’re taking care of our residents; where we’re making sure that the things we would normally call the police for are not happening. We’re discouraging that and we’re doing it though social programming. But it takes time, we need to be working for that.”
Grice says he supports the police and understands that sometimes physical force becomes necessary but that there has to be transparency and better training. “Across the board there should be a national standard [on police brutality], as far as choke holds, as far as other things; we need a national standard across the board,” said Grice.
In the group of residents were teenagers, adults, and more. Residents were of all different backgrounds. They all remained united over a better Newburgh, and a better world.
Serenity Pruitt is 13-years-old and already civic minded. She attended Saturday’s protest with her friends, and with the full support of her parents.
As a young person, Pruitt feels a disconnect in police-community relations.
“I feel like they [the police department] don’t care and overstep their jobs,” said Pruitt. With the recent publicization of various incidents of police misconduct throughout the nation has come calls for accountability. With these calls of accountability have come efforts across the nation to heal a painful relationship.
Brantley encourages more youth of color to join legal and law enforcement professions, in order to encourage more understanding of the needs of marginalized communities in the legal system.
“I do think we need to ensure that we’re hiring people that reflect us,” said Grice. “People that reflect the population. That doesn’t supersede qualifications, they should be qualified to do that job.” He said that the system of promotion needs to ensure fair promotions at all times.
“Do we have work to do? Yes,” said Grice. “But we’re not in a situation where it’s full scale war on the community or full scale war on the police department. I don’t know how to word that, but it’s not here in the City of Newburgh.”
Harvey encourages civil engagement as a form of protest.
“We must fight at the voting booth. We must fight by filling out our Census 2020 forms! Let’s put our energy in the direction that our ancestors fought and died for,” said Harvey.