To the editor:
On June 5, Peabody Black Lives Matter activists staged a peaceful rally to protest police violence in this country in the wake of the killing of George Floyd, as well as too many other black men and women to name. Despite bitter consternation on community social media pages, the protest was a shining example of civic action.
Kudos also belong to the rank and file Peabody police. They were friendly. They were approachable. The only trouble came when one older woman came shambling down the sidewalk to shout, “White lives matter,” at the assembled 20-somethings. Even then, Police were quick to respond, escorting this woman away and telling the crowd afterwards she was obviously “not all there” and not to engage.
However, at one point in the rally, the crowd took a knee for an 8-minute moment of silence in honor of Mr. Floyd, representing the manner in which he was murdered. Almost immediately, people in the crowd, down on solemn knee, began demanding the police do the same. Certainly, the police were under no obligation to do so, but what a missed opportunity! Imagine the powerful symbol of solidarity if the police chief acquiesced to the crowd’s demands and took that knee.
Instead, a nearly flawless execution is marred by this singular blemish. The chief – who I assume is nothing but a decent and genuine man – tried to say something to the crowd about how he did not want to imitate the actions of Mr. Floyd’s murderer, where a police officer knelt on his neck for more than 8 minutes. However, this was the wrong answer for two reasons. First, the sound system was never going to carry the police chief’s message to the crowd and that should have been apparent. The only message the crowd was going to receive from the chief was the message that came from kneeling or not – and the chief opted for the latter. Second, in this moment what was needed was a show of deference by the police to the amassed citizenry. Instead of telling the people how what they wanted was wrong in some respect, what was needed was a show of solidarity from their local police.
All is not lost. Our police are good and our chief appears decent (he did after all attempt to address the crowd respectfully). No doubt we will have more opportunities to learn as the current crisis unfolds. I implore the Peabody chief of police, indeed, all of the (white) elected officials of Peabody, to stand for racial equality by taking that knee when you are called to next time.
Tristan R. Brown