Black Lives Matter protests spread across county

HUNDREDS OF PEOPLE marched in downtown Bristol Tuesday afternoon to denounce the police killing of an unarmed Black man, George Floyd, in Minneapolis on May 25. Around 1,000 people turned out around the region at various protests. Independent Photo/Christopher Ross

ADDISON COUNTY — Fed up with ingrained racism in America, nearly 1,000 people in Addison County took part in public marches and demonstrations in the past week. It’s a number that seems to be growing locally since protests began around the country after a white Minneapolis police officer killed George Floyd, a Black man, on May 25.
People rallied, waved homemade signs and took a knee in silence at various demonstrations in Vergennes, Bristol and Middlebury in the past seven days. 
While hundreds of people turned out at several events, one of the most intimate gatherings took place at Porter Hospital in Middlebury this past Thursday, June 4. Just outside the hospital, 10 nurses and an anesthesia provider took a knee at a time that coincided with a memorial service for Floyd. 
Nurse Frances McDowell said she organized the event because her husband and daughter are both people of color, and she is passionate about speaking out against racism. 
“I just wanted to do something to honor and remember (George Floyd), but also all people of color who have lost their lives due to racial profiling,” McDowell said. “It was kind of a last minute thing, and (Thursday) morning I went to almost every department at Porter and invited all who were able and wanted to to join me in taking a knee and honoring him.”
The next day, June 5, almost 100 people met in Brandon’s Central Park at rush hour for a “Say Their Names” vigil, holding signs bearing the names of Black Americans who have died in police custody. And on Sunday, members and friends of St. Thomas & Grace Episcopal Church Brandon participated in a silent prayer vigil as a public witness against racism. For 90 minutes, roughly 20 participants stood quietly in front of the church on Route 7. 
“We as a faith community think it’s important to bear witness to the evil that is racism,” said parishioner Franci Farnsworth. “Many of our signs carried the message that LOVE is the answer.” 

On Saturday in Vergennes about 250 area residents gathered this past Saturday between 4 and 5 p.m. on the city green for what organizer Liz Ryan of Waltham called a “Silent and Still Assembly Against Racial Inequality.”
Attendees were asked to wear black and wear masks, carry signs and stand six feet apart. Ryan said she opened and closed the vigil with brief remarks, but mostly citizens stood quietly for the better part of the hour. 
They did hear noise, however, from passing truck drivers and motorists, according to Ryan.
“There was much, much honking of horns in support,” she said.
Ryan and other organizers are planning another hour-long event this Saturday from 4 to 5 p.m., this one headlined by former Vergennes resident and Northlands Job Corps director Alicia Grangent.
Grangent, now a Burlington resident and employee of The Howard Center in that community, plans to speak for half an hour or more and can touch on her experiences as an African-American, Ryan said.
She added those who come will again be asked to wear black, wear masks and carry signs.
Ryan described this coming Saturday’s event as “non-divisive, and as a gathering as of those who share “a grave concern over the state of affairs” and racism in America and who are “hoping to end this shame of ours.”

Sunday evening saw a contingent of 300-400 show up on the Cross Street Bridge in Middlebury for the second Vigil for Black Lives in as many weeks. In an effort organized by the group Showing Up For Racial Justice Middlebury and by state Rep. Mari Cordes, some folks made donations to help cover hospital bills for a local Black woman who was recently in a car accident. 
Many of those at this demonstrations walked across the bridge and down to Court Square where they spread out around the streets holding up signs and showing solidarity. 
Many passing motorists honked or waved in support. At least one truck driver showed his displeasure by gunning his motor and speeding passed the pedestrians.

Bristol saw two rallies this week. 
On Monday around 70 people came to the town green near the cannon. Many kneeled or bowed their heads while observing silence for 8 minutes and 46 seconds — the amount of time that the police officer kneeled on George Floyd’s neck.
Then on Tuesday afternoon, more than 350 people attended a peaceful vigil on the Bristol green to express solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement and to mourn Floyd’s death.
“We gather today to honor the validity and value of Black lives and to organize around the dismantling of white supremacy,” said one of the vigil’s organizers, who addressed the crowd from the Bristol bandstand.
Wearing face masks, carrying signs and chanting, “Black Lives Matter! Justice for all!” protestors formed a line and marched up and down North Street and around the town green, drawing honks of approval from passing traffic.
When they reassembled in the park, another organizer informed them that no one would be giving speeches at the vigil.
“All of the organizers of this event are white and this is event is not intended to speak for Black people’s experiences,” they explained. “Our goal today is to express solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement, spread awareness and resources surrounding this topic and honor the lives that have been taken at the hands of police.”
Protestors then kneeled in silence for 8 minutes and 46 seconds, an amount of time that has come to hold great meaning for social justice activists around the world.
Reporters Lee J. Kahrs, Andy Kirkaldy, Christopher Ross and John S. McCright contributed.

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