Protesters gathered in downtown Delaware Wednesday evening to call for justice and an end to police violence.
The protest is the latest in a series of protests nationwide in the name of George Floyd, a 46-year-old black man who died on Memorial Day when Minneapolis Police Officer Derek Chauvin knelt on Floyd’s neck for eight minutes while in the process of arresting him. A video of the arrest went viral, which sparked protests and demands that Chauvin be criminally charged.
Wednesday’s protest was organized by Ashley resident Mariah Bennett, who said she wanted to bring the community together to speak up on an important issue.
“We can’t stand for the racial injustices anymore,” Bennett said. “It’s not just about George Floyd, it’s about all the cases before him. It’s everywhere.”
Bennett said she was inspired by seeing all the peaceful protests nationwide and wanted to organize a peaceful event locally.
“Seeing all the other protests is really moving,” she said. “(It’s good to see) everyone coming together for a common cause.”
Bennett said she disagreed with detractors of the protests who have said “it happened states away and has nothing to do with us” because the issue of racial injustice should be dealt with everywhere.
“It does (have to do with us) because the whole nation should come together and show we’re done,” Bennett said. “We’re not putting up with this anymore, and we’re not going to stand for it.”
Bennett said she brought her kids to the protest because she wanted them to understand the importance of the message.
“Our kids don’t understand what’s going on in the world,” Bennett said. “They don’t understand why people are being judged by the color of their skin or why cops, who are supposed to look out for them, are hurting people. That’s why I wanted cops to come out, so kids could see that not all cops are bad. I want them to still be able to trust the police.”
At the protest, attendees chanted Floyd’s name, “Black Lives Matter” or “I can’t breathe,” and hundreds marched along the Sandusky Street sidewalk between William Street and Central Avenue. Cars driving by honked in support of the protesters.
City of Delaware Police Chief Bruce Pijanowski spoke to the crowd at the event. He said the police department was outraged by Floyd’s death last week.
“We are your community,” Pijanowski said. “The Delaware Police Department is part of this community, and what we saw last week, what we saw, the homicide in Minneapolis … It made me sick. The Delaware Police Department does not support what happened in Minneapolis in any way shape or form.”
Pijanowski shared his perspective as a police officer and said his department is committed to being part of the community.
“Right now it’s a tough time to be a police officer, because we have to watch what’s happening across the country because we’re all wearing the same badge. Everyone at the police department has worked hard to connect with this community … it hurts us to be dragged back into the muck with those departments that don’t get it,” he said.
Pijanowski added there’s plenty of work to be done.
“We understand we have a lot of work to do now, and we’re here with you to do that work,” he told the protesters. “We see the message. We get it, we’re with you. We’re tired of the hatred and tired of the racism, tired of the intolerance as much you are. We want to police our community cooperatively and professionally, and with you. Let’s all work together for that future. “
Randy Bolton, a Delaware resident, briefly took the mic to make a statement to Pijanowski.
“You made the statement that ‘it’s a tough time to be a police officer,’” Bolton said. “That is very true. But it’s even a tougher time being black in this country.”
“The reason it’s tough for me is because I’m the reason it’s tough for him to be black in this country,” he said.
Bolton said he grew up in the “Jim Crow South” before moving to Delaware 50 years ago, and he was pleased to see the large community turnout at Wednesday’s protest.
“It makes me feel great,” Bolton said, adding he appreciated seeing that a majority of the protesters at Wednesday’s event were white. “It’s not going to change until white people start to speak out, and I think you see that here.”
Bolton said that 40 years ago he wrote a letter to the editor of The Delaware Gazette after a black man was turned away at a restaurant in Delaware because he was black.
“Forty years later, we’re fighting the same battle,” Bolton said, adding that the election of President Donald Trump “scratched the scab off an old wound.”
Delaware resident and business owner Amy Bresler lent Bennett the microphone and speaker that was used to give speeches at the event. Earlier in the day, she printed out 35 “Black Lives Matter” signs and passed them out to local businesses.
“It doesn’t seem right for me to not be speaking and using my voice when I can,” Bresler said. “(The turnout) is awesome. It just shows that even in a small town you can make a difference. I hope people start having the tough conversations. The conversations that are not easy to have but really need to be had within families, within friend groups, and within your community.”
Cassandra Binkley, a Delaware resident, said the size of the crowd is one reason she is “really proud to be part of this community.
“We have a lot of work to do but this is where it starts,” she added. “It starts with communication and talking, not by sweeping things under the rug. We need to have meaningful dialogue … the core issue is racism. That’s what we need to talk about, not all the other stuff that goes around it.”
Binkley was at the protest with her daughter, Caroline, who said, “There’s power in numbers,” after seeing the turnout.
“I love our community,” Caroline Binkley said. “Delaware has always been special, and it’s for a reason.”
As the event started to wind down, Bennett said she “teared up” when she saw how many people came.
“There were so many children,” Bennett said. “I’m so happy that people brought their kids to make them a part of this.”
Glenn Battishill can be reached at 740-413-0903 or on Twitter @BattishillDG.