One man standing in a parking lot recording video with his phone in one hand raised his other arm and screamed “Yeah!”
A woman stood on her porch smiling and clapping.
One man yelled, “Shut the fuck up!”
Another man exclaimed, “All lives matter!”
The response from the immediate public was mixed as roughly 150 people joined together Sunday afternoon to march through Meadville in protest of the black lives lost, including most recently George Floyd and Ahmaud Arbery.
The peaceful protest was organized by 2020 Meadville Area Senior High School graduate Jaida Speed and her mother Christina Smith. It took participants from First District Elementary School to Second District Elementary and included a stop in Diamond Park. People were invited on Facebook to show up for the protest and stand up for the ones who couldn’t breathe.
Speed, whose mother is white and father is black, explained her love for Meadville, a place she said she has spent half of her life.
“I’ve experienced racism even here,” Speed said of Meadville. “We’re not all bad people.”
Smith said she and her daughter received “a lot of backlash” Saturday night and Sunday morning as word spread of a protest beginning at noon in Meadville. Numerous cities throughout the United States encountered protests over the last few days, including a number that became violent and riotous. Erie police arrested seven people overnight Saturday due to rioting in that city, according to GoErie.com.
The protest in Meadville included no tear gas, looting or violence. “We are here for love,” Smith said as the group was preparing to march through Meadville.
As the march was about to begin, Smith stressed that everyone walk on the sidewalk and do their best to social distance. She also suggested that black people stay in the middle of the group and white people surround them as a way to say “we got your back.”
Meadville’s population is predominantly white and a majority of those participating in the protest were white. Speed commented on that when the group arrived at Second District, saying, “Look around you. I see a whole bunch of different colors.”
Right before the walk began, Speed listed the names of about 20 people, including Floyd and Arbery, who were killed over the last few years “unwarranted,” according to Smith.
Prior to the arrival at Second District, the group stopped at Diamond Park with participants lying down throughout the park, saying “I can’t breathe” in unison for about six minutes in honor of Floyd, who was seen on video continuously uttering that phrase with Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin’s leg on his throat for that long.
Chauvin was fired and later charged with third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter in connection with Floyd’s death.
“He was born with a pigment in his skin, and he can’t change that,” Speed said about Floyd while everyone gathered in the Diamond.
Speed then suggested a two-minute moment of silence for Floyd, who appeared in the video to lie unconscious for that period of time as Chauvin’s leg remained on his throat.
The moment of silence was interrupted by a man who approached the group and screamed “All lives matter,” an often said counter to “Black lives matter.” As some started to holler back at the man, Speed suggested that others not respond to him, with Speed saying, “We are excellent.”
“Don’t feed into it,” said a person who was among the protesters.
Among the chants throughout the protest were “No justice, no peace,” “Black lives matter,” “I can’t breathe” and “We stand together.” Many of the chants were led by Speed on a megaphone.
“He is mad about this,” Smith said at Second District about the man who interrupted the moment of silence at the Diamond. “He is mad that all these white people came out here” in support of black people.
Signs created by protesters included “I am black and my life matters,” “Stop the hate,” End police brutality,” “White silence is violence,” “All lives will matter when black lives matter” and “No justice no peace no racist police.”
The protest mostly dispersed after a talk at Second District, but 50 or so people went back to Diamond Park and invited Meadville Police Department to participate in a moment of silence and remembrance of the lives lost. Chief Michael Tautin and Assistant Chief Michael Stefanucci spoke with and listened to the group plus participated in a prayer for unity.
“IF YOU WANT A CHANGE , YOU GOTTA BE THE CHANGE“