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Several Thousand at Black Lives Matter Rally at Syracuse City Hall Urging End to Police Violence

UPDATED AT 10:46 PM  

Downtown Syracuse streets remained mostly quiet throught the evening after the large Black Lives Matter protest crowd dispersed in the late afternoon.  Syracuse Police sent out a message through social media confirming protests had stayed peaceful.

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Credit Chris Bolt/WAER News
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Marchers blocked Salina Street and cross streets for about 20 minutes

After the downtown rally, several marches wound their way through the Syracuse streets, sometimes confounding police trying to manage traffic.  But the processionals remained peaceful.  One ended in a gathering at Columbus Circle with more calls for police brutality reform.  Traffic did follow marchers, with cars honking.  But they were honks of support, as in past days' marches.  

AFTERNOON RALLY DRAWS THOUSANDS

A large, diverse crowd heard messages of change, of past violence, of hope, and of vigilance at a Black Lives matter rally in front of Syracuse City Hall Saturday afternoon.  Organizers billed the gathering as “The Fight Against Police Terror,” though the messages and sentiments covered a much broader range of racial justice issues.

Speakers remembered those killed during violent incidents with police, including George Floyd, Brionna Taylor, and many others.  There were also calls for changing police practices, even defunding police.  Numerous messages spoke of experiences and realities of growing up Black, such as Nick Jones, who told the crowd he has to explain these things to his 5-year-old.

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Credit Chris Bolt/WAER News
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Signs of support in front of local businesses, though many also boarded up windows and doors to prevent damage from vandalism.

“Being a Black man in Syracuse New York, it is not easy driving down your street if your music is a bit too loud.  It is not easy driving down the street because I’m driving a Mercedes Benz and the color of my skin is not what you think it should be ….  It is not easy for our young people who look like you and I to walk the streets at a certain time of the night.  This is not OK.”

Just a day after Syracuse mayor Ben Walsh and Police Chief Kenton Buckner spoke ofchanges to Police use-of-force policy,  the process and extent of those changes were called into question.  Yusuf Abdul-Kadir of the New York Civil Liberties Union told the crowd protests like this one were key in those changes.  And he refuted the idea that it was a collaborative process with the community.

“It was done because of excessive uses of force to black citizens in the City of Syracuse.  It was changed because people like you came out to demand action.  It was changed and reformed, but we (must) go beyond the word ‘reformed’ because reformed is half-made.”

THOSE IN ATTENDANCE BRIDGED RACE, ETHNICITY, AGE BARRIERS

The size of the crowd was estimated at well over 2000, though many came and went during the 2+ hours of speeches and stayed on side streets, so many more people likely participated in some way.  Numerous attendees remarked not only about the size of the crowd, but also its diversity. 

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Jana Keefe brought her 13-year-old twins, all holding signs with slogans they researched as being relevant to the issue: “Racism is a Pandemic Too”; “Silence = Violence’; and a list of names of mre than a dozen victims of police violence.

“That was really important because these were human beings.  They weren’t just nameless, faceless; they were human.  And I think remembering they had family and they had  a place in this world, there’s 19 names on this sign but there could have been a lot more.,”  said Keefe. 

A group of four young women felt moved to participate and also made connection a connection between the protests and voting as a method of seeking change.

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“I definitely wanted to be part of the change because I can’t watch this happen any more. … They’re talking about how much change we’ve already caused, and I defeintley want to be part of that because I can’t watch any more things about this (police violence) any more because it’s really just making my mood so down,” said Mia Stauffer of Syracuse.”

“I also think it’s important to realize that a lot of issues of police violence and systemic racism and oppression of black people in America, it’s not just limited to these instances we see of George Floyd and Brionna Taylor," added Alicia Percovich.  "I think it’s important to realize these issues are affecting our own city and that we are complicit in them.  I really like seeing the whole Syracuse community come together and being part of the change right here in our community.”

EFFORTS TO KEEP LARGE PROTEST NON-VIOLENT AND DISSUADE VANDALISM

City streets within a block or two of city hall, as well streets around the Public Safety Building and Sheriff’s Department were blocked off more than 36 hours in advance.  During the protest, a large contingent of officers from Syracuse, Onondaga Count and State Police were evident at the periphery of the event. 

As speeches waned, a large march started, which coursed down Salina Street where police tried to re-rout them, since they were not prepared to manage traffic.  Police issued a traffic warning to motorists because other marches of people as they left the main demonstration were popping up on other downtown streets. 

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Credit Chris Bolt/WAER News
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Chris Bolt, Ed.D. has proudly been covering the Central New York community and mentoring students for more than 30 years. His career in public media started as a student volunteer, then as a reporter/producer. He has been the news director for WAER since 1995. Dedicated to keeping local news coverage alive, Chris also has a passion for education, having trained, mentored and provided a platform for growth to more than a thousand students. Career highlights include having work appear on NPR, CBS, ABC and other news networks, winning numerous local and state journalism awards.