Floyd killing sparks Oak Bluffs rally

Peaceful gathering shines the light on racism.

Updated June 1

Scores of people gathered in Dennis Alley Park (also known as Waban Park) Sunday morning in condemnation of the killing of George Floyd by a Minneapolis Police officer. 

That officer, Derek Chauvin, according to the Star Tribune, has been charged with second-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter after video showed him pressing his knee into Floyd’s neck as Floyd, handcuffed and on the ground, said he couldn’t breathe. In contrast with riotous protests across the country, those gathered in Oak Bluffs exercised peaceful criticism of racial injustice dealt not only to Floyd, but as many speakers noted, to countless others in systemic fashion. 

Bullhorn in hand, Oak Bluffs resident Ebony Goldwire broke down recalling a segment of video she watched of Floyd’s killing.

“I have actually not been able to watch George Floyd’s murder in its entirety,” Goldwire said. “I have not been able to stomach it. I’ve only been able to watch clips. And it was Thursday morning [when] I was finally able to see the clip when he cried out for his mother. And in that moment I saw my son, and I promised myself that would not be his reality.”

Angella Henry, whose son Danroy Henry was shot by a police officer in Pleasantville, N.Y., in 2010, said, “Nothing has changed” since then. 

“Our son died on the street. George Floyd died on the street. You cannot go back to your house today the same way that you came here,” Henry said. “You need to go back with the desire, the fire, to create change. Vote. Bring somebody to vote. Bring somebody to register to vote. Do something other than being here today. This is just a start. A line has been drawn in the sand. What side are you on?”

Oak Bluffs resident Eric Turner told The Times he came to the rally because he was “just tired of this whole situation … it’s a tragedy what happened to George Floyd. That’s why I’m here.”

Turner went on to say,  “I like the idea that this is a peaceful demonstration. This is a peaceful protest. So I’m all in favor of that. I don’t advocate violence, but something’s got to be done. It’s a sad situation.”

Rally organizer Kiely Rigali told The Times she was pleased with the turnout at the rally: “I was really happy that the community came out and that people were able to have the platform to tell their stories. We have an amazing community of diversity and activism.”

After Angella Henry spoke, Rigali said another mother, who chose not to address the crowd, told her she’d lost a son to unjustified police force.

“Two moms,” Rigali said. “That’s unacceptable.”

Oak Bluffs planning board chair Ewell Hopkins expressed dismay at the rally. On a sidewalk across Seaview Avenue from the park, Hopkins told the Times the rally was “well-meaning” but in violation of Gov. Charlie Baker’s prohibition on gatherings of more than 10 people. He described the event as orchestrated through “blatant white privilege.” Hopkins later told The Times, “We all found out, us elected officials, last night.” Hopkins argued public health was put at risk. 

“I have no criticism of the people who attended,” he said and added he felt they assumed town officials were aware of the event. Parks and recreation chair Amy Billings and Oak Bluffs Police Chief Erik Blake only learned about the rally last night, according to Hopkins. 

“I was disturbed to hear my police chief had not even been contacted,” Hopkins said. “We’re working our butts off to keep people safe in the town of Oak Bluffs,” he said, but he argued the event flew in the face of that work because, among other things, there was no public health plan for it. 

“I don’t think a black person would have done something like this — so unorganized,” he said.

He went on to say had it been set up by an organization like the NAACP, proper steps would have been taken.

Hopkins pointed out some members of the Douglas family had properly sought permits for a different sort of rally in Vineyard Haven, earlier during the pandemic. Social media criticism mostly upended that effort, he said, and while he did not agree with the philosophy behind that gathering, he respected the effort to secure a permit for it. Compared with Sunday’s rally, he said, “There’s a hypocrisy there I struggle with. It’s not about permission. It’s about keeping people safe.”

Rigali, a Vineyard public school teacher who’s in her fifth year on Vineyard, said she selected the park because there have been “other protests and assemblies in the field,” and because it had a lot of space for social distancing. She said she also thought Oak Bluffs was appropriate because of its “amazing, deep-rooted black culture.”

Rigali went on to say, “I felt that it’s our right to assemble. We have the right to assemble.”

The event, she said, came together swiftly. “I do not want to disrespect or offend anybody by not including them in this,” she said. It was “organized in less than 24 hours. Sometimes there is an urgency of now.”

Rigali later amended the turnaround time to 40 hours. 

She noted everyone was wearing masks. 

Rigali said she spoke with the Oak Bluffs Police prior to the event, and invited them to stand with others at the rally.

She said she conveyed to the department it was going to be a peaceful assembly, and COVID-19 safety measures would be undertaken. 

Chief Blake confirmed on Monday he wasn’t notified of the rally, and learned of it through The Times. He also confirmed his department met with the organizer ahead of the rally, and discussed proper social distancing and use of masks. Chief Blake said essentially there were two truths at play. He acknowledged Hopkins’ point about the governor’s order, and he also pointed out folks have a right to peacefully assemble. “How do you walk that high wire?” he asked.

He answered his own question by saying, “I’m certainly not going to send police officers to any protest as long as it’s peaceful.”

Blake said while a cruiser and an unmarked police vehicle motored past the park a few times to ensure all was well, he dispatched no officers out amid those gathered.

“They were doing the right thing,” he said about their social distancing and mask usage.

“People in these times need to be able to express themselves,” he said. He emphasized, unlike hooliganism that marked the tail end of protests in Boston Sunday night, where a Boston Police cruiser was torched and several officers were injured, Waban Park was a peaceful event start to finish.   

Hopkins produced a screenshot of an email response from Chief Blake to Billings and Oak Bluffs selectmen chair Brian Packish that read, “Amy, What protest? I’m not aware of what you are talking about.”

The email is dated Saturday, May 30.  

In a response email, Packish endorsed the gathering. “I think the right to peaceful protest is covered,” he wrote, “but some level of assistance might be warranted. I’d leave it to Chief to cover it. These murders have to stop, and if people can peacefully gather to grieve and expand awareness, I’m all for it.” 

Speaking of George Floyd’s death, Blake described what he’d seen in video footage as “pure malice.” Such an act, he said “blatantly violates the trust” law enforcement works hard to earn with the public. 

He said he appreciated his fellow chiefs’ unity in their condemnation of the incident, and expects the other Minneapolis police officers involved will be charged. He was right. Later former Minneapolis Police officers Tou Thao, J. Alexander Kueng, and Thomas Lane “were each charged with aiding and abetting second-degree murder while committing a felony, and with aiding and abetting second-degree murder manslaughter with culpable negligence,” the Star Tribune reported.

“Resisting death is not resisting arrest,” he said. 

Updated with comments from Chief Blake.  –Ed.

 

39 COMMENTS

    • What would we do without BS wisdom?

      “March 6, at 11:27 am: Within a month this virus will be ouit of the headlines The vast majority of people who contract it have experienced very mild symptoms. This is just the truth, Virtually every medical expert has stated such. I am not the uninformed one.” ~BS

  1. So, Chief Blake was made aware of a proposed mass gathering which eventually attracted approximately 100 people (as reported by the other paper) in direct contravention of the Governors guidelines and he did nothing to prevent it from happening. This was not a spontaneous gathering – MVTimes reported on it yesterday, the same day as the emails to the Chief. Perhaps the Times should reach out to Maura Healey for a comment.

  2. Seams to me this protest was put together in the heat of the moment and asking for forgiveness and not permission was the only option.
    I’m not saying it was right but neither was the death of Mr. Floyd and so many others. It’s not like these cops were in a shootout and feared for there life’s this was cold blooded murder. I’m glad this protest took place and I’m sorry I couldn’t attended. I do however think Chief Blake should have just been left out in the dark on this. Notifying him even an hour before put him in a really bad damed if you do damed if you don’t situation that he technically needs to try and control whether he wants to or not. It’s his job not to let his personal beliefs interfere with a situation like this. I will continue to pray for the day that these senseless killing stop.

  3. Clearly the Minneapolis Police Department has some issues to face for it’s slow response to this incident. But the “incident” should have no bearing on any other state. Incidents in other states were not protests. They were anarchists.

    • All of America has a racist police system problem. Individual police might be fine, might not be. But they will not turn in or testify against their criminal colleagues, and this is true everywhere. There is no police accountability, the police unions prevent nearly every attempt at dealing with issues. We have only the fig leaf of civilian control, and we should all be protesting.

  4. isn’t it sweet that these sheltered trust funders are in solidarity with the protesters
    what’s the matter nothing good on Netflix?
    You people are so put out…. there is a tear in my eye. Or is that just the tear gas in the wind.
    Time to go home and shelter in place with the rest of the sheeple.

    • I’m not seeing a connection between protests and trust funds or being sheltered. Sheltered people usually don’t want to deal with the harsher realities of life. At least this group is willing to talk about what’s going on. These issues won’t go away on their own.

    • Were you there? Obviously not. Because these were locals who are shocked and outraged at witnessing the murder of a black citizen at the hands of police. AGAIN. How pathetic that you have no empathy and only wants to fan the flames of hatred.

    • My son was there, and I can guarantee you there is no trust fund on the horizon. His friends were/are there, and not a single one has such funds. They are tired of seeing systematic racism, and they want to do a small part and show their support. “trust funds” it sounds nice, but just not based in reality – like your President.

  5. This article brings a couple things to mind, Chief Blake chose to be part of this just like when he sided with the naacp which he is president of `demanding` to remove the two plaques forthwith against the wishes of many from the OB Civil War Monument as it was racist last year and they were removed forthwith, another thing was not long ago I remember the constant chants “Pigs in a blanket, fry them like bacon”.
    OB is the perfect place for these incidents especially when Chief Blake, President of the naacp says the hell with the Governors guidelines.

    • Tisbury Native, I think this is the third time you’ve mentioned the plaques in relation to protesting police brutality. I respect your right to disagree with that decision, but you’re acting like inanimate objects have some connection or comparison to this topic. They really don’t matter right now. This is about basic human rights. People before things.

    • What’s your issue with Chief Blake and the NAACP?
      And what does your “pigs in a blanket” chant have to do with any of this?

    • Quick thought: One possible solution to your ongoing issues regarding the controversial civil war monument might be toppling it over, assuming this is legal. Just an idea!

  6. Tis native– why do you feel the need to point out that the chief in OB is the president of the NAACP ? In every comment you have posted concerning the murder of Mr. Floyd you mentioned that in and in your latest comment, to which I am responding, you feel the need to say it twice. . One could pretty easily infer that you may think that the president of the NAACP is some sort of deplorable position to hold.
    Also, the OB police chief has no authority to prevent people from exercising their constitutional right to peacefully assemble, even if she happened to be white.
    Is your memory so short as to forget that a group protested at 5 corners in favor of opening the economy recently ? I did not see you comment that the V.H police chief should have shut that down. And those idiots were in closer proximity to each other, and some were not wearing mask, in violation of the governors “illegal” guidelines.

    And where, pray tell, did you get the idea that there were constant chants of “Pigs in a blanket, fry them like bacon”. Could you link us to something to that effect ?
    Please don’t bother if your only source is Alex Jones.

  7. United States citizens DO NOT need permission to assemble. Please read the Constitution. We DO NOT need a permit to peacefully protest an event, despite Mr. Hopkins’s remarks. To assert that this was a “white privilege” Gathering is an insult to the black families that were there sharing their grief, pain and life stories. They asked white people to help them, to fight with them against this scourge of police killings. Would it be better to turn our backs and ignore this??

      • Darn it, I meant “a protest WITH a permit is a parade”. I would like to issue a personal retraction.

  8. This article is absurd and divisive. It is borderline insulting to the historical black community of Oak Bluffs. As a fifth generation life-long Oak Bluffs resident I want to apologize to the people present and those mothers who shared their stories that this was even published. They were practicing far superior social distancing and mask wearing than anyone on the beach is that day.

  9. How about an article on how Ewell Hopkins really feels? As far as the OB Chief, yeah don’t expect anything but self service and self preservation, you will see the same out of the TIS Chief today when he does… absolutely nothing, probably hide in his office all day rather than ensure the ‘gathering’ isn’t too large at five corners. I’m just glad the geese of ocean park aren’t violent, they could have turned the waban gathering ugly…

    • Because Blacks over there were killed, we should overlook the police officers over here murdered a Black. No. You don’t get it or are in absolute denial of the problem.

      Nope.

    • Brian, How many of those 303 homicides were killings done by the Poilice while the victims were physcially restrained by the Poice?

    • 106,000+ Americans have died from COVID-19 and some still act like it’s not a real problem or shame those of us who are concerned. If ever there were dismissal of a stat to serve a nArRaTiVe in America, it’s this one.

      But back to Chicago. You must not be looking in the right places. This is discussed. There is outrage, and most of it is FROM Black people, especially moms, but they’re not heard. This city does have major crime issues, and some are working hard to turn that around. Yes, more needs to be done. Often when I’ve seen a plan proposed to help, it’s shot down by those who do not want to invest the money. People love to complain about crime but hate to fund anything that’s been proven to elevate. I could explain why that is, why this is a circular problem, but I don’t feel like putting in the effort to be met with a snowflake emoji.

      The “concern” here is so disingenuous. Instead of bringing this up to prevent further suffering, it’s always used as a political “gotcha!” to invalidate other tragedies. We can acknowledge and look to solve crime in Chicago and elsewhere while still seeing that the vile abuse of power by police has to stop. A man was slowly and unlawfully executed in full view of the public, both literally and on video, by those with all the power. No one could stop it. It’s the stuff of dystopias. Yet you’re looking to redirect our focus. Then you wonder why people are fed up and feel no one cares.

  10. Please do not lose sight of the fact that the First Amendment to the Constitution grants the PEOPLE the right not to be interfered with by the government in their exercise of their rights. It does NOT grand the rights, it is worded so that the PEOPLE rights are not infringed.

  11. Chief Blake set the right tone with his response. The protest was organized by well-meaning people, who needed their voices to be heard. Ms. Henry and Ms. Rigali presided over a peaceful assembly from beginning to end. They had every right to express their feelings. They lost their sons. I feel for those moms. Danroy Henry was a victim of an unjustified homicide. A police officer in New York ended his life. The account of his death was horrible and unnecessary. A rush to judgment by the police officer. Please copy and paste the news link below. It’s heartbreaking.
    https://www.cbsnews.com/news/dj-henry-shooting-death-was-police-shooting-of-pace-university-football-player-justified/

    • Paul- thank you for this reasonable and heartfelt comment. As a former chief of police, I am sure you understand the horror that such a situation evokes to all involved. Including the 99.9999999999% of police officers who proudly serve and protect.

  12. I think that this was a great protest, organized and well attended peacefully. I am much offended by Ewell Hopkins comment “blatant white privileged ” …. What is that really suppose to mean – racist comment to me. I don’t think it matters as to who or what race organized this protest – it was done with much class and respect . We all as individuals no matter what our race need to unite and be together. My heart goes out to all who have lost family members through violence and mishandled circumstances by law enforcement but lets not loss sight of what we must all do together….

    • KAG– why would you post such an obvious lie ? Are you so blinded by your conservative ideology and your bad case of reality assimilation disorder, brought on by way too much trump kool aid , that you choose to post this senseless claptrap ?
      You might have seen a post from me recently where I pointed out that the conservative side of the 2 America’s does not value the truth. Your lie proves my point. Conservatives ignore the truth, accept lies as truth, and disrespect the opinions of others, based on political ideology.
      Your post is a lie– it is not funny– we are in the midst of the worst pandemic in a century. More that 100,000 Americans of all colors, ethnicities , religious beliefs, sexual orientation and political persuasions have already died. The president of lies distracts from his horrific leadership by doing the stupidest thing possible– leave the WHO . And you, KAG, drink the kool aid and post childish gibberish and lies.
      have you no shame ?

  13. It’s extremely difficult to believe anything written by cowards who hide behind their made-up names. Who are you? If you wish to speak out, do so and sign your name to your beliefs, or remain silent.
    These protesters were there to speak out against police violence against our colored citizens and did so responsibly, respecting guidelines for keeping themselves and others safe. We all should do so, as I would have had I been there. We need to stand together against all forms of violence.
    Darrell King

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