Crofton reflects, rallies against racism

Nearly 300 protesters of all ages and skin color marched peacefully through Crofton on Tuesday, June 2 in response to the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis just over a week ago, many of them chanting “black lives matter,” “no justice, no peace” and “white silence is violence” for two hours. The death of Floyd, an unarmed black male who died under the knee of a white police officer on May 25, has ignited protests against police brutality--both peaceful and violent--across the country. Anne Arundel County was no different Tuesday, as residents across the county gathered at the Crofton Library at 3:30 p.m. before marching to the town’s only police station and town hall, the Crofton Civic Association. Crofton police escorted protesters in front of Crofton Elementary, a school nearby. Protesters swarmed on the bright, hot day in front of a parked police car as county residents spoke to the gathering crowd about not only police brutality, but discrimination and racism in the community. An older, African-American woman addressed the crowd as many waved cardboard signs and poster boards of varying messages, including “I Can’t Breathe” in reference to Floyd’s dying words and “Reform the Police.” The woman described her experience walking the Crofton parkway, seeing racist signs and hearing racial epithets. “This community needs a lot of work,” she said. ‘I’m so proud of today, but it doesn’t just end today. I want to walk this circle and not be looked at.” Before the crowd dispersed to march the parkway, Cpl. Berney Williams, a black police officer first hired by the Crofton Police Department three years ago, grabbed his PA system to tell his own story to the protesters. “When I got here, for my first call I had a white person ask me why Crofton hired a black guy,” he said. “Do you want to know where it starts? It starts in the community. This right here--”he swept his hand across the crowds of people, of all ages and skin colors--”this is love. We start fresh today. For those who want to walk that parkway, I’ll walk it with you.” Williams said he wanted to join the police when he was 13--his uncle was shot and killed in the line of duty then, inspiring him to become a force of good in the community . The officer said he joined the protesters today because it was a peaceful demonstration that could make a difference in Crofton. Many of the protesters were young, too, and Williams said this was an opportunity to give youth hope and inspire them to make changes in the community. “These kids are marching for a good cause,” he added. The protesters marched around the parkway and back to the library. Halfway through, they stopped for a minute of silence for Floyd. Cars passing by the crowd honked, and residents waved in support from their lawns. Some, however, chose to hurl insults or otherwise disagree verbally with the protest. Williams encouraged protesters to not “fight back” and give them what they want. Those comments from largely white residents are an example of the racial wounds the nation still hasn't healed, said Amanda Sacier, a 15-year-old Odenton activist who was protesting in D.C. and Baltimore for four days before coming out to the Crofton march. Those lingering wounds are often at a cost, she added. “It breaks my heart every time I go on social media and see another black person killed,” she said. Protesters across the nation have said enough is enough after Floyd’s death and the killing of another unarmed black woman at the hands of police-- Breonna Taylor in Louisville, Kentucky, in March. Many protesters have also cited the murders of other black men in the previous decade, including Tamir Rice, Philando Castille and Freddie Gray, who was killed in police custody in Baltimore in 2015. With a global pandemic still raging, coupled with soaring mass unemployment-- both of which have disproportionately affected the black community-- tensions are higher and many minorities and activists are demanding real changes and reforms this time. “The energy is different,” said Hana Hawthorne, a 20-year-old Crofton resident who organized the entire protest Tuesday by herself. “ I don’t think this will die out.” Hawthorne organized the protest on Facebook, social media and word of mouth. She said she put this together because “Crofton has nothing for black people,” and she wanted to galvanize white residents to do more for marginalized communities. “There are black families here, and they need to feel safe and supported,” she explained. “And I feel like they weren’t getting that. The purpose of this was to bring everybody together--but also to help white people recognize their privilege and to use it for good things.” U.S. cities have been grappling with riots, looting and violence in the streets. Many cities have imposed a curfew to curb the violence and destruction, but for seven days straight, most of the rioting continued. Hawthorne said she does not “agree with rioting” but acknowledges that peaceful protests have not worked in the past--and the destruction has awarded their cause serious attention for the first time. Monet Whittington, a 22-year-old Odenton resident, put it more bluntly. “White people can’t tell black people how to handle their anger,” she said. “We’ve been quiet for too long.” After U.S. President Donald Trump announced he’d mobilize the military to quell riots, residents across the country came out in droves to protest for the first time. A. Roland, who could not give her full name out because she works for the government, was one of them. She couldn’t believe the law--The Insurrection Act of 1807—was legal. "Why is that law on the books?” she asked. “The systemic practices in this country need to change.” Roland has lived most of her life in the county and has three young black children. She said no mother should have to be afraid for her children to encounter police. “Until the system changes, nothing changes,” she repeated. Many of the protesters promised to continue their activism, and have signaled that they will attend more peaceful protests. Hawthorne said she was surprised by the turnout--she had expected only 20 people and instead got close to 300--and will organize another march. 18-year-old Jaharie Brooks from Odenton said “right now is the time” to make a change. He was tear-gassed at a protest in D.C., but he hasn’t let that slow his momentum. “What’s motivated me is the movement everybody is trying to promote: positivity and equality,” he said. “Black lives have been spit on and diminished a lot in Western culture, and now is the time to protest.”.