As protests continued last night across the country over the death of George Floyd, hundreds came together for a prayer vigil in the largest city in in western Massachusetts.
A racially and generationally diverse gathering of perhaps 300 people stood in front of Springfield City Hall Tuesday evening for a vigil promoting justice in the case of Floyd – the Black man who died when a white Minneapolis police officer knelt on his neck – and appealing for peaceful demonstrations.
"This is a vigil for healing and hope," said Springfield Mayor Domenic Sarno as he welcomed the large crowd.
The vigil was put together by members of the Pastors’ Council of Greater Springfield and the Sarno administration. The mayor led several elected officials, including U.S. Rep. Richard Neal, the city’s police commissioner, and clergy from several faiths who spoke.
"I, we, welcome peaceful protest," said Sarno to applause from the gathering. " Mr Floyd's legacy should be a legacy of change, not destruction."
Floyd’s death has sparked protests throughout the region and across the country. Some have turned violent with demonstrators and police clashing. Fires have been set, and stores looted. There have also been poignant scenes of police kneeling along with protestors.
At the vigil, Springfield Police Commissioner Cheryl Clapprood said what happened to Floyd in Minneapolis was not justified.
"What happened to Mr. Floyd was just plain wrong and those officers belong in jail," said Clapprood. "Those words don't come easy from a person who has been in law enforcement 41 years, but those words are correct."
Clapprood and Mayor Sarno appealed for a peaceful protest later today when a march and rally organized by Black Lives Matter is to take place in Springfield.
" We support your cause and we agree with you," said Clapprood. "There is no division here. There is no us against you mentality here at all. We are on the same page."
She said some of her officers planned to march with the protestors.
The police commissioner said she is concerned that “insurgents” from outside Springfield will try to infiltrate the march to stir up trouble.
Pastor Constant Cooley of United Temple Church of God in Christ said Springfield can set the tone for the rest of the country.
" I want to see peace in this city. I want to see peace in this state, and I want to see peace in this nation," said Cooley. "But in order to get peace we got to put God back in."
Before the vigil started, a small group of demonstrators stood across the street holding signs reading “Black Lives Matter.” Karlos Reyes of Springfield called for people to join “a revolution of love.”
"I don't have anything negative to say about the police, but it is hard to have faith, so we ask that they stand with us," said Reyes. "We have to do this together."
A peaceful protest took place last Friday in front of the Springfield Police headquarters. On Monday, several hundred people in Northampton marched to the police station. Police Chief Jody Kasper came out and spoke with some of the demonstrators.
In Holyoke Tuesday about 1,000 people marched from City Hall to the Heritage State Park across from the city’s police station.