‘Kneeling for Nine’ in Marion

Jun 2, 2020

As protestors nationwide respond to the death of George Floyd, a black man who was killed after a Minneapolis police officer kneeled on his neck for nearly nine minutes, Tri-Town residents also started to publicly protest on June 2. 

In Marion there was a “Kneel for Nine” protest. The objective was simple: meet in front of the Marion Music Hall, kneel and leave. The crowd that gathered to do so was large enough to spill out around the building, onto the sidewalk by Serendipity by the Sea, and across the street to the grassy area by Island Wharf Road. 

Many left after the protests, but some stayed to listen to a few impromptu remarks afterwards. 

One protestor said those against the system should work to de-unionize police, since it is far too easy for them to get hired again after incidents if they are unionized

Talon Gomes spoke about his own experience being arrested. He asked listeners to take a closer look at sentences handed out during protests, as he was charged with assault and battery because his shoes hit an officer. He was also charged with spitting on an officer because he was sprayed with a fluid and couldn’t see and was trying to get it out of his mouth

Gomes said he is sick of hearing people justify police violence with “we don’t know what happened before or after the video.”

And he called on protesters to continue to show up.

“This one was an easy one,” Gomes said of the protest, “If we can keep that energy for something more difficult,” that’s what participants really need to do. His comments were met with applause. 

One mother implored other parents to “educate your kids,” and recommended the Tri-Town Against Racism Facebook group for materials. 

Police Chief John Garcia was there, and hoped for a peaceful protest, though he sensed when he got there that it would be. 

He said it was “very powerful to have this many people maintain the silence and kneeling for 9 minutes.” 

In response to some of the statements about police and unions, he said “it’s always hard to hear when you’ve devoted your life to something, but some things he said were accurate.” 

At about the same time on June 2, there was a protest in Wareham, hosted by The Wareham Area Clergy Association and the Tri-Town Against Racism Group. The “Communities for Peace, Justice, Healing and Heart Changes” vigil offered participants a chance to heal through prayer, spark conversation on racism, and create change going forward. 

As a crowd gathered at the Wareham High School Track on Tuesday night, Pastor Gerald Fernandes welcomed participants with prayer, and the playing of the song “Waymaker” to begin the vigil.

Pastor Dan Bernier, of the Church of the Good Shepherd, then spoke about the “wound of racism” that is deeply rooted in this country. 

“There is so much brokenness in our world,” Bernier said. He added that “at least in this country, people of color have suffered more than others” referencing the fact that communities of color have been disproportionately impacted by coronavirus.

Bernier then said that while prayer is helpful, “we must do the work to heal” the wound of racism, and that “when we come together as brothers and sisters we can do that.”

Old Rochester Regional High School senior Jendell Teixeira discussed her personal experiences dealing with racism, something she said has been embedded in her everyday life as a black student in a predominantly white school district. 

From microaggressions to more blatant acts of racism, like when she was called the n-word in the eighth grade, Teixeira said that racism is alive and well today. 

“This isn’t just something that happens down south or in other cities and states, it’s in Massachusetts, in the Southcoast heavy, and now is the time for us to take a stand,” she said. 

Teixeira said that some specific measures she thinks should be taken to make real progress in the ORR school district would be to have a more diverse teaching staff, and to include the representation of black characters in books, which is something she saw very little of. 

Teixeira added that white people should seek out resources to educate themselves on racism, as it should not solely be up to black people to educate their oppressors. 

The vigil also introduced the Tri-Town Against Racism group, which was formed by six women, three white, and three black, in response to racist incidents within Tri-Town Schools. 

Barbara Sullivan, Teixeira’s grandmother, helped to organize the vigil. She added that many people in the Tri-Town may not realize the extent of the issue in the ORR school district, and is asking people to submit “war stories” to the group’s Facebook page to highlight the severity of the problem.

Over the May 29 weekend, a post surfaced from an Old Rochester Regional Junior High School student of a meme that mocked the death of George Floyd and used racial slurs. The student later publicly apologized for the post on social media. 

The district was blunt in a letter to the school community.

“It is critical that we acknowledge that we have had our own struggles with racism. Most recently - unacceptable racist actions on social media outlets have damaged the foundation of our schools. These actions go against everything our schools' mission and values stand for. They are unacceptable.”