Protests against police brutality brought out thousands of demonstrators across the Northeast this weekend. WAMC was in northern Berkshire County Friday night.
The Black Lives Matter rally in Williamstown transformed the sleepy college town into a colorful scene of protest, chanting, and demonstration. Hundreds held signs, sang, and occupied the rotary surrounding Field Park to lie in the street for 8 minutes and 46 seconds to honor George Floyd. The handful of police present worked mostly to coordinate traffic.
For some older members of the crowd, the significance of the moment was not lost.
“What we witness here is something special," Al Enchill. "For a moment, for America to see where we stand together, we stand firm. When we are divided, we will fall as a nation. And this is a symbol. Look at the people here! All speaking up that police brutality must stop. We must live as one people and one nation. That’s the only way we can survive as a country.”
Enchill drove up from Pittsfield with his sons and daughter-in-law.
“I have never seen it myself," he told WAMC. "I have lived here for 29 years, and I have never seen it like this. So this is a special moment for the nation to wake up and come together. For the first time, I think we can do it as a nation.”
“Well I’m a bit more hopeful than in the past, because it seems like more of the country seems to be mobilized," said Otha Day. "Certainly having video cameras of issues of things blacks have been saying for generations have been happening, it seems to have galvanized a greater number of whites to see, well, maybe they weren’t lying, maybe they weren’t exaggerating.”
Day is a drum circle facilitator whose work often focuses on racial justice.
“My son who grew up here, says that he – he lives in Atlanta now – he says he doesn’t want to go out to march because he doesn’t want to be killed," he told WAMC. "He knows that his white friends are much more likely to survive than he is. And so I think whites need to feel that they have the same skin in the game that blacks have had for generations. Otherwise, this is bullshit and won’t change.”
There was a different community response to protest in North Adams. WAMC learned of a demonstration planned for the Walmart parking lot to follow the action in Williamstown. It was described on social media as “some friends gathering,” information the station provided to the North Adams Police Department when asked.
In any event, rumors of busloads of looters proliferated on local social media, leading Walmart to close early and fortify its entrances. Police chief Jason Wood camped out with more than a dozen officers, EMTs, and Massachusetts State Police near the standout at a driving range on Route 8.
“It looks pretty quiet down there," Wood told WAMC. "Last we checked, there was only three or four people, so I think it’s uneventful. But we were based on the information in Williamstown – sounded like it was a large crowd over there, so we didn’t know if it was connected to this. Doesn’t look like it is.”
Cindy Nikitas of Williamstown was one of the four sign-holders outside Walmart.
“When Michael Brown was murdered, I sat at the Field Park in Williamstown by myself, and little by little, we’ve grown now to crowds of hundreds – so I’m very, very, very happy,” smiled Nikitas.