More than 300 people, wearing masks to protect themselves and others from the ongoing pandemic, knelt silently for seven minutes in memory of George Floyd who was killed as he was restrained under the knee of a Minneapolis police officer. The officer has since been charged with murder.
Monday’s vigil was organized by Graysen Kirk, with support from Mathea Morais, a teacher of Kirk’s. During the vigil, organizers held a seven minute period of silence in acknowledgement of Floyd’s death.
“We’re kneeling for seven minutes in solidarity and in respect to his life, and how long he held on,” said Kirk.
During the vigil, as hundreds of people held signs, cars drove by and honked in support. Protestors led chants and held signs, with messages such as “Say his name,” “George Floyd,” “Black Lives Matter,” and “I can’t breathe.” There were also many signs held by white attendees displaying what actions they planned to take in the future to maintain active anti-racism.
“It’s the sadness of this situation. That’s why we’re here. It’s a much smaller version of it, but that’s why we’re here,” Nettie Kent, one of the protestors, told The Times.
The event was praised by Tisbury Police as peaceful, despite an incident as the gathering was dispersing. One man was arrested for an alleged assault and a second man was taken into custody for allegedly smashing a pickup truck window, Police Chief Mark Saloio said.
“It was a very respectful vigil,” Saloio told The Times. “Virtually everyone followed the rules.”
The incident happened on Lagoon Pond Road. Police and witness allege that Eric Woods, 66, assaulted one of the protestors after being confronted for making racist comments. While police were interviewing Woods in his pickup truck, a third man — not the protestor who had been assaulted — threw a rock through the back window of the pickup truck smashing it.
Det. Max Sherman told The Times that Woods, 67, is being charged with assault and battery and disorderly conduct for allegedly punching a 19-year-old male in the face after being told to stop making comments directed at protestors. The teen had a lump on his face, Sherman said.
The man arrested for smashing the rear window of Woods’ pickup has not been identified. That man initially cooperated with police, but has since refused to give his name and became uncooperative. He has been charged with disorderly conduct and malicious destruction.
“He became uncooperative,” Sherman said.
Asked if there was an incident at the jail, Sherman said the situation is still evolving and declined further comment. “I can say he was uncooperative during transport and booking,” Sherman said of the man who tossed the rock through the pickup window. “It’s a shame, really, there were no incidents prior to this.”
Dukes County Sheriff Robert Ogden said there was an incident at the jail. “He was violent upon arrest and became combative in the lockup,” Ogden said. “No serious injury to any of the officers.”
He said the individual has been taken to Martha’s Vineyard Hospital.
Ogden said he was just learning about the incident and said sheriff’s department officials would have more information in the morning.
A witness to the incident at the rally told The Times that the man in the truck was using incendiary language and made an obscene gesture at protestors. After being confronted by the teen, he allegedly got out of his truck and punched him.
“A white man in a big red truck was giving racist remarks, giving the protestors the middle finger, making horrible comments,” Kent said. “And a driver in the car behind him said something along the lines of, ‘stop.’ The man in the red truck got out, leaned in the kid’s car, and punched him right in the face.”
Kent said a bystander, also an attendee of the protest, smashed the man’s back window.
No one was seriously injured in the incident, Saloio said.
“It ended everything on an unfortunate note,” he said. “It was an overwhelmingly positive protest.”
Kirk said the single violent incident did not detract from the main message of the protest. “People started surrounding the car, and sitting in front of the truck after the man got back into his car,” said Kirk. “Everyone was still protesting peacefully. I think it would be very sad if that one incident took away from the whole message because I believe that that’s not what this protest stood for. It was strictly peaceful, and I think that it was handled in the best way possible.”
Prior to the incident, police presence at the vigil was fairly modest, with officers observing from afar and directing traffic through the intersection. Organizers worked together with the Tisbury Police Department in preparation for the event, and praised the department for their collaboration.
Kirk encouraged white attendees to bring signs displaying what action steps they intend to take to dedicate themselves to working toward anti-racism in the future.
“I’m hoping to make even more of a change past our community,” said Kirk, who created an online petition she circulated in advance of the event to voice her outrage at the death of Floyd. Kirk’s petition is available at http://chng.it/Gqx6Rny4Kw.
Kirk expressed a desire to balance concerns over the pandemic and the need to protest.
“I encouraged everyone coming to the protest to wear masks. The Tisbury Police Department has been amazingly supportive in all of this, and they’re actually bringing masks for people who may not have them,” said Kirk. “We definitely want to respect the precautions, but can’t use the pandemic as an excuse to be silenced.”
Organizers spoke about the potential to maintain momentum moving forward after this event.
“Marching, and sitting, and other forms of protest, while really, really important, clearly have not been enough,” said Morais. “It’s really about what action steps we are willing to take once we walk away from this vigil. It’s about bringing awareness, it’s about showing support, but it’s also about what we are willing to do ourselves when we leave here tonight.”
George Brennan and Rich Saltzberg contributed to this report.