On Saturday, nearly 150 demonstrators met on the fields of the Chilmark library to kneel in solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement and inspire more peaceful protests on the Island. Despite temperatures rising well into the 80s with heavy humidity, participants were eager to show their support for the movement, cheer on speakers, and reflect on police brutality and systemic racism.
While demonstrators have met daily at Beetlebung Corner since June 6 to protest police brutality and systemic racism, Saturday’s event was the largest — attracting five times as many people as the daily protests — and most intently coordinated. The demonstration featured multiple speakers, including youth activists Graysen Kirk, Kiely Rigali, and Lisette Williams, as well as activist Awet Woldegebriel and comedian Amy Schumer. It also featured a musical performance by David Saw, Darby Patterson, and Phil DaRosa.
Saturday’s demonstration was coordinated by Williams, Kirk, and Rigali. Williams is a seasonal resident from Cambridge, and a Martha’s Vineyard Polar Bear; Kirk is a Chilmark resident; and Rigali is a special education teacher at the Edgartown School. The three have been working together since early June to plan various demonstrations around the Island, and decided to collaborate with Dana Nunes to bring more attention to her up-Island activism.
“We realized that there was something going on already that we could galvanize people to and put a spotlight on,” Williams said. By using platforms like Snapchat, Instagram, and Facebook, Williams, Kirk, and Rigali were able to spread more awareness about the Chilmark demonstration, and garner a larger crowd for Saturday’s event.
Starting at 10:15 am, demonstrators began gathering around the fields of the Chilmark Library, carrying signs with expressions such as, “Black lives more than matter,” “Vote against hate,” and “Still waiting for liberty and justice for all.” Cars passing through the intersection showed their support, honking their horns, raising their fists out the window, or giving the crowd thumbs-ups. As more people arrived, participants were able to utilize the larger venue to maintain distance between themselves and other demonstrators, and each person present was wearing a face mask.
The event began with brief speeches from Williams, Rigali, and Kirk, who spoke about systemic racism and combating racial injustice. “It’s an ongoing fight, it doesn’t stop,” Kirk said. “People can’t just come to these protests and be done. Your work is never done until there is peace.”
Nunes, who started the Beetlebung protests nearly two months ago, also addressed the crowd. When she began her demonstration, Nunes intended to stand at Beetlebung Corner from 9 am to noon, every day for a week. “I needed to be out here for my two grown, black sons,” Nunes said. “I needed to be here for my grown daughters, who are people of color. I needed to be out here for my cousin, who was one of the names that we honored.”
With the help of Schumer and Woldegebriel, Nunes’s efforts have since become a daily demonstration, where a different victim of police brutality is recognized each morning.
For Saturday’s demonstration, protestors honored Kathryn Johnston, a 92-year-old Black woman who was shot and killed by undercover police officers in her home in Atlanta, Ga., in 2006, after officers secured a no-knock warrant under false pretenses. In addition to police brutality, Kendra Salvatore, who shared Johnston’s story with the crowd, addressed redlining, the war on drugs, law enforcement systems, and gun laws. “These are just a few of the many systems set up to systemically kill Black americans, which persisted before Kathryn’s 92-year life, and unfortunately, still persist today,” Salvatore said.
After hearing the story of Kathryn Johnston, the crowd silently kneeled for 8 minutes and 46 seconds — the same time that fired Minneapolis Police Officer Derek Chauvin kept his knee on George Floyd’s neck before he died. When the time had passed, Nunes led a call-and-response with the crowd, shouting, “Say her name,” and the crowd shouting, “Kathryn Johnston” back.
The event was coordinated with the help of Chilmark Police Chief Jonathan Klaren, who put out no-parking signs and offered to assist with the flow of traffic if need be. A police presence was not necessary, as the event was able to proceed peacefully without any interruptions or instigation. “Jonathan is a mensch,” Nunes said. “If the police departments across America were stacked with men like him, we’d have to find something else to do. We’d have to find something else to protest, because he is remarkable, and I can’t thank him enough for all he has done for us.”
While the collaboration between Nunes and Williams, Kirk, and Rigali was intended to spread awareness about the Beetlebung protests, it was also meant to inspire other Island communities to start their own daily demonstration. Fighting systemic racism, Nunes said, matters everywhere, and needs to be seen by everyone.