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Peaceful gatherings in St. Helena protest killing of George Floyd

Peaceful gatherings in St. Helena protest killing of George Floyd

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A few dozen people gathered in front of Lyman Park Monday to denounce racism, police brutality, and the killing of a Minneapolis man whose death at the hands of police has sparked demonstrations around the world.

Some 30 hours later, on Tuesday evening, a large group of mostly young people gathered for speeches at St. Helena’s Jacob Meily Park. After many speakers took the microphone and voiced their opinions, the group walked down the sidewalks along Pope and Main streets to Lyman Park. As they walked, many carried signs and shouted slogans.

On Monday at Lyman Park, Nancy Dervin said, “I’m here because something has to change, and I don’t know what else to do right now besides this. We need to do something about the institutionalized racism in this country.”

George Floyd, who was black, died May 25 after being pinned to the ground by a Minneapolis police officer who kept his knee on Floyd’s neck for more than eight minutes as Floyd repeated “Help me” and “I can’t breathe” and called for his mother before losing consciousness.

All four officers involved in the arrest have been fired, and the officer who kept Floyd pinned to the ground has been charged with third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter.

Monday’s peaceful demonstration was organized by Beth Lincoln of Women Stand Up-St. Helena, who said it will take place every Monday for about an hour starting at noon.

She said she’s sick of black men being killed by police “over and over and over again” and appalled at the racial disparities in incarceration, health care and education.

“We can’t, in good conscience, stop being the voice of injustice,” Lincoln said. “I will not sit back and watch this happen.”

Demonstrators held signs reading “Help me – I can’t breathe,” “Black Lives Matter,” “Institutional racism must end now,” and “Justice is a right – not a privilege.” Many passing drivers honked to show their support, and some gave a thumbs-up or raised a fist in solidarity.

Police officers who commit crimes “need to go to prison just like anybody else,” Dervin said, “including any officer who stood by, making themselves complicit in the crime.”

“Something needs to be done now on the institutional level,” said Anne Garden, another demonstrator. “It can’t just be a Band-Aid.”

The entire Williams family of St. Helena – parents Rachel and Josh and kids Eva, Penny and Ezra – joined the rally.

“We wanted to support the black people and what they’re going through,” said Penny, age 10.

Eva, age 13, heard about the rally from a friend and decided to go because “we all need to make our voices heard,” she said.

“The brutality, the mistreatment, the dehumanizing – it has to stop,” said their mom, Rachel Williams.

St. Helena is sheltered from the problems that occur in more urban communities, Josh Williams said, “so it’s easy to kind of put your head down and just say ‘Oh, that doesn’t apply to us’ or ‘We don’t have to worry about that here.’”

“It’s great that people are here acknowledging that this is a real thing, and even though we don’t see it every day in the community where we live, this injustice is happening in part of our country.”

St. Helena has been spared the unrest that’s gripped many large cities in the last week, but signs with messages like “Black Lives Matter” and “A system cannot fail those it was never designed to protect” were visible around town on Monday.

Graffiti urging justice for Floyd was left on the side of Brown’s Auto Parts over the weekend before being cleaned up Monday afternoon.

You can reach Jesse Duarte at 967- 6803 or jduarte@sthelenastar.com.

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No Justice No Peace, Black Lives Matter, I Can’t Breathe, Stand Up for Justice . . . messages sent out across the country from protesters. In St. Helena, the protesters gather at noon each Monday at Lyman Park on Main Street, across the street from the U.S. Post Office.

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