Boyertown holds peaceful protest in support of Black Lives Matter

Many+Boyertown+students%2C+both+past+and+present%2C+came+out+to+support+the+Black+Lives+Matter+movement+in+the+silent+and+peaceful+protest+that+took+place+on+Main+Street.+%28From+left+to+right%3A+Chris+Angus%2C+Hannah+Desko%2C+Samara+Rayco%2C+Eric+-%2C+Sally+Fetterman%2C+Sarah+Tuk%2C+Grace+Young%2C+Morgan+Janiuk.%29

Jocelyn Lear

Many Boyertown students, both past and present, came out to support the Black Lives Matter movement in the silent and peaceful protest that took place on Main Street. (From left to right: Chris Angus, Hannah Desko, Samara Rayco, Eric -, Sally Fetterman, Sarah Tuk, Grace Young, Morgan Janiuk.)

There was a heavy police presence, with many cops patrolling the sidewalk and several police cars circling the area. (Jocelyn Lear)

From 5pm to 7pm on Main Street in Boyertown over 250 protesters stood silently with signs displaying words such as, “Justice for George Floyd,” and “End Police Brutality.”

Organized by a group on Facebook, the event stressed a peaceful protest with no signs of violence or looting.

“Boyertown has long been haunted by the history of ignorance that this town once used to represent,” the event stated. “Protesters are asked to maintain social distancing, wear masks when appropriate, and bring signs in alignment with the cause.”

Many BASH students showed up to the event, including many seniors. Towards the end, a group of choir students began humming, “We Shall Overcome,” which has a long history as a Civil Rights Movement gospel.

“Music is a great thing that is always able to bring people together,” Morgan Janiuk, a senior in the Class of 2020, said. “Music speaks louder than words. It meant unity.”

Students that protested felt it was crucial to be there with the context of the greater issue of police brutality throughout the United States, particularly in Minneapolis, Minnesota, where Officer Chauvin kneeled on George Floyd’s neck after Floyd was accused of using a counterfeit $20 bill. Floyd died, sparking protests and later riots all over the country in major cities such as Philadelphia.

“Protests like these are important, because they show everyone that we can come together and show our unity,” Morgan said. “These are necessary protests that help us create change.”

Among the protesters was Samara Rayco, a Boyertown alumnus of the Class of 2019. She currently goes to Penn State University, and feels her role as a student is integral to taking part in protests.

“I think it’s a good idea to support the people who have been oppressed for a really long time, and I would like to see everybody supporting this just, because it’s not a battle against politics; it’s a battle of injustice,” Samara said. “I think as a student, especially at a college that’s very diverse and has very strong opinions on supporting people of color, it’s given me a lot of confidence to speak out and it’s given me an environment that cultivates that and cherishes that and embraces it in order for students to become good individuals within society.”

Some citizens showed unease at the protesters and walked carrying firearms. (Jocelyn Lear)

Prior to the event, there were rumors of high school students planning to loot. While the rumors were false, store owners stood outside their doors to nervously keep watch regardless. Some residents who had unease about the protest carried firearms and shouted at some protesters as well, dressed in tactical gear.

There was a heavy police presence, with both departments of Boyertown and Colebrookdale merging yesterday into the Eastern Berks Regional Police, which is a brand new department. Chief of Police Leatherman, who has served as Chief for 18 years, agrees with the right to protest and the general message of the protest.

Chief Leatherman of the new Eastern Berks Regional Police Department, which is a merging of the Boyertown and Colebrookdale Police, patrolled the sidewalks throughout the event. (Jocelyn Lear)

“Let me say that, as far as agree or disagree, I don’t want to get into political stuff. But people have the right to demonstrate peacefully in public places, it’s constitutionally protected activity as long as they don’t violate any laws,” Chief Leatherman said. “We are here to defend people’s right to exercise their rights as long as it doesn’t infringe upon other people’s rights, so I certainly support the message that is behind this, and that is one, as I understand it anyway, one of peace and getting along and being nice to one another, basically. So I wholeheartedly support the message.”

He has some reserves about protests such as the one in Boyertown today.

“What I always am concerned about with events like this is, you don’t always know the size and you can end up having people and traffic conflicts, you can have counter-demonstrators come with other ideas and try to upset things and cause problems that are not really part of the event,” he said. “So there’s a lot of variables and a lot of things that we as police are concerned about, but I certainly support the message and I support people having the opportunity to come out and have their conversation and their voice be heard.”

In terms of police reform, Chief Leatherman condemns the acts of police officers like Chauvin, but lacks any personal experiences of police brutality.

“Across the board, that’s hard to say, because obviously some very, very bad and wrong things have happened involving police officers, no one can deny that. And some of the things that have happened recently that have been the catalyst for events like this frankly are an embarrassment to our profession, we not only don’t condone but we’re disgusted by it,” Chief Leatherman said. “All of the police officers I’ve worked with I know are honorable people who are caring and dedicated and working hard to serve their communities and protect people, and it’s an affront to us to see these wrong things happening, so in my little world that I’m a part of, I don’t see the need for it. But I haven’t experienced or been involved in the kind of things that have given rise to events like this. So if you see things happen like what are happening in other places of the country, it would appear as though there may

Over 250 people showed up to the event posted on Facebook, titled, “Boyertown Black Lives Matter Silent Protest.” There were several people, not related to the protesters, carrying guns and shouting phrases such as, “White power!” Despite this, no violence broke out between the two groups. (Jocelyn Lear)

need to be some mechanism of preventing that.”

Other members of the community, such as Shanea Boswell, showed up to the protest to both support the black community and to show progress in Boyertown’s history, which has long been tarnished with KKK affiliation.

“I am out here to show solidarity with the black community,” Shanea said. “Boyertown’s history has been widely known for the KKK and I want to make a difference in Boyertown. I grew up here, I’m like the third generation, so I think it’s time that we changed things. I think that our justice system needs to be reformed, there’s too much systemic oppression that the black community faces and has faced since the Civil War ended, and I think we need to see some changes in our government and how our systems are set up.”

Other members of the community have a duty as parents to protest and “make an example.” Cara Heisey, a mother, has such sentiments.

“I am out here to first be an example to my son, to hopefully change things for the future, because, man, this has been going on for centuries, for generations, and I just hope and pray that there is a change. I want to be a change-maker and I want him to be a leader for his future, and I can only do that by leading by example,” Cara said.

Cara Heisey (left) and Shanea Boswell (right) were two of the many protesters on East Philadelphia Avenue. (Jocelyn Lear)

She feels that people of color experience too many fears, and that change must happen.

“I don’t want to see this for the future. I really, really hope and pray that things are different,” she said. “I hope that people of color don’t have to be afraid when they walk out of their houses, they don’t need to be concerned about their place of work or their place of worship or leaving to go home or driving to the grocery store or being pulled over, I mean anything, we live in fear. I say ‘we’ as in a collective humanity, but I mean people of color especially, and that’s just not okay.”

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