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Peaceful Pittsfield Anti-Police Brutality Protests Continue

Days after a peaceful protest drew hundreds, a few anti-police brutality protesters continue to demonstrate in downtown Pittsfield, Massachusetts.

About half a dozen sign-holding demonstrators attracted honks from passing cars in Park Square Wednesday afternoon, including Anthony O’Brien of Lee, who held a Black Lives Matter sign above his head.

“We’re here, we’re showing peace, and we’re showing love, and that’s really all the world needs," he told WAMC. "And we need to show the black lives all the love that we can, because if we don’t, then the police are going to keep taking their lives for no damn reason.”

He appreciates that his experience in Berkshire County’s largest community has been without the violent reprisals from law enforcement protesters have experienced elsewhere.

“I have friends coming back from Boston every single day, telling me that they either got pushed while they were just walking down the street to head to a protest by an officer," said O'Brien. "Officers are running in at people with tear gas and shooting straight at people with rubber bullets. In Washington, I have another friend who just got shot in the face when he was leaving a restaurant that he was actually working at, and he’s the manager of. He wasn’t even protesting that night and he got shot in the face and he’s in the hospital right now with a concussion.”

Over several demonstrations, O’Brien says the Pittsfield Police Department hasn’t given him reason to worry.

“I’ve noticed that the police here are a lot more agreeing and they actually even came and stood with us on Saturday and Sunday," he said. "Very supportive, very helpful. There were obviously a couple officers who drove by faster when they drove by, but that was the most aggression that we got from officers.”

The county’s NAACP chapter has praised the Pittsfield Police Department’s handling of the demonstrations to date. President Dennis Powell singled out the contingent monitoring Saturday’s gathering of hundreds of sign-wielding protesters.

“They were respectful, they were courteous, they understood,” he told WAMC.

“We work really hard constantly and train very hard on a regular basis so that our personnel are better prepared, better equipped, and more empathic," said Chief Michael Wynn. “My men and I, we’re here to protect people’s rights to peacefully assemble and peacefully protest.”

“I’ve lived and worked in this area for years and I’ve seen a lot of demonstrations in this spot and I’ve never seen any kind of problems, and I felt very safe coming today to do this," said Laurel Martinell – another demonstrator at Pittsfield’s main intersection, where North, South, East and West streets converge. “Pittsfield has a lot of problems most days of the week, but being able to make sure you’re heard and getting your point out, that is – they’ve never had a problem with.”

Martinell carried two signs.

“’Don’t Be Silent, Speak Up,’ and it’s justice for George Floyd, and then I have another one that is ‘Self-Preservation shouldn’t be above unity,’” she read.

Martinell was surprised at the reaction the demonstration received.

“We’ve gotten a lot of people honking or waving or telling us they’re really happy we’re here doing this, so it’s been nice to see,” she told WAMC.

The rare negative reaction – one driver yelled “All lives matter” at the small gathering while WAMC was on the scene – was swallowed up by support.

“A couple people are shouting comments, but it’s so loud here we can’t even hear them over all the positive stuff – horns honking and all that stuff,” said Martinell.

Steve Decker was also holding handmade signs in Park Square.

“One sign says ‘Floyd,’ the other sign says ‘Stop Police Brutality,’" Decker told WAMC. "There’s a lot of police brutality going on in this country, and we don’t need it. The more police brutality you got, the worse the riots get.”

A white man, Decker was drawn to protest after the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis Police custody on May 25th.

“I just think it’s kind of crazy for what the police are doing," he told WAMC. "It’s every day of the week. There is no justice. But if it was one of us, justice would be served.”

The midweek demonstration wasn’t the product of an organized group.

“No, it’s just random people," said Martinell. "One of my friends and her sister were here, so I came over to support them. I never actually met most of the people here before. So it’s nice to see just a bunch of people coming out all for the same cause.”

More Berkshire rallies are scheduled for Williamstown Friday and Great Barrington Saturday.

Josh Landes has been WAMC's Berkshire Bureau Chief since February 2018, following stints at WBGO Newark and WFMU East Orange. A passionate advocate for Western Massachusetts, Landes was raised in Pittsfield and attended Hampshire College in Amherst, receiving his bachelor's in Ethnomusicology and Radio Production. His free time is spent with his cat Harry, experimental electronic music, and exploring the woods.
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