While violence erupted nationwide this weekend over the Minneapolis death of George Floyd, a calm assemblage of more than 100 people in downtown New Castle on Sunday culminated with a peaceful march led by the police.
A stop in front of the city police station during the march ended with a prayer led by Mayor Chris Frye before the group trooped back to its origin at Kennedy Square, then dispersed.
The mid-afternoon event was organized largely through Facebook postings, and people who read about it and held up signs, said they went into the downtown to voice their disapproval about police violence and racism. The calm protest came a day after crowds rioted in the streets of downtown Pittsburgh, smashing windows, burning police cars, looting businesses and injuring people who had gathered along the city’s main thoroughfares.
“The citizens have had enough,” Allison DeRosa, one of the leaders of the New Castle gathering, said. She faulted the Minneapolis police and bystanders who watched as the police officer relentlessly knelt on Floyd’s neck, ignoring his final pleas to breath and stand up.
“The innocent bystanders were not so innocent,” DeRosa said. “I would have no problem doing jail time so I wouldn’t die, and I’m sure Floyd would have too.”
She added that the violence that has erupted since his death “is not representative of what we stand for. We want peace on both sides.”
Jayla Cook of Mahoningtown held a sign that said, “We matter.” She was there to protest police brutality and racism, and to seek justice.
“We’ve dealt with a lot of things right here in this community,” Cook said, before the march commenced. “I just hope that it’s peaceful today, with people working together to support one another.”
Herbie Hunkele of New Castle, a professional trumpet player who graduated in 2014 graduate of New Castle High School, showed up on the town square by himself.
Hunkele has worked on a cruise ship, and his current career has led him to become the music director at Cedar Point. He was planning to participate in a protest in Youngstown on Sunday, but when he heard about the one in New Castle, he headed for downtown.
“I’m here to support my black brothers and sisters,” he said. He enjoys playing music of the black culture, he said, “and it would be hypocritical of me to not come out and support the people who are what I do.”
Raelynn Reisker of Volant was there with her friend, Jo Anna Stoner of Shenango Township.
Reisker said she went to the protest because, “I wanted to be a part of something that would incite a change.”
If the situation would turn into anything other than peaceful, she and her friend planned to leave, they said.
Jo Anna said they read about the gathering on Facebook and she went and bought poster board to make signs.
“I felt like it was enough,” she said. As for the violence erupting, she added, “It’s horrible. I don’t agree with the violence, but I understand the frustration behind it.”
Tiffany Lewis and her mother, Michele Lewis, also were part of the demonstration, with Tiffany’s 9-year-old daughter, Alaynah Blakney, helping them to hold signs for justice. Tiffany said she learned about the event through a Facebook post, and she went out and bought cardboard to make signs.
“I hope people will just learn that black lives matter and police brutality is not OK,” she said.
And while the police were the brunt of all of the violence and protests elsewhere, New Castle’s chief, Bobby Salem, said he was appreciative that people came out to express themselves.
“I’m proud of the people of New Castle and how they came down here and protested peacefully,” he said. “It shows other communities how it should be done.”
Of the incident in Minneapolis, Salem commented, “There shouldn’t be a police officer in the world who watched that video and who wasn’t appalled by what happened. That doesn’t represent law enforcement. The people’s protest and outrage is understandable. In law enforcement, we always can find ways to do better.
“Communities are always going to have bad things happen,” he continued. “You’re always going to have bad things happen with officers using force, because of the nature of the job,” he said. “You’re always going to have bad cops. What needs to change is the culture of other officers needing to step in and intervene and hold their fellow officers accountable. Most of them are good and care about the communities they serve.”
Salem pointed out that the rioting and looting going on in other cities this week only hurts others.
“You’re hurting other community members, and it’s not helping with the cause, it’s actually detracting from it and taking the attention away from George Floyd,” he said. “A lot of people want change, and they should be out here protesting, but the ones rioting are actually hurting the whole cause, in my opinion.”