The anger and calls for change that have swept the nation over the police killings of unarmed African-Americans recently came through Malden. An online vigil was held on Thursday, June 4 (full video embedded below) and a march followed by a rally was held on Friday, June 6.
Neighborhood View citizen journalists Amanda Hurley and Sky Malerba covered these events to capture the statements and emotions of participants who peacefully registered their outrage and demands for change.
Here are their reports.
(Feature image – top of page: artwork by Shaina Lu, member of the Greater Malden Asian American Community Coalition)
“Change can’t wait, and we need your help”
By Amanda Hurley
Erga Pierrette of Malden Community Organizing for Racial Equity (MaldenCORE) opened the online “Vigil for Black Lives Taken by Police and Condemnation of Police Brutality” on Thursday, June 4, with a call for unity to denounce the normalizing of police brutality against black and brown bodies. The vigil was attended by 388 participants on Zoom and has over 3400 views on Facebook and YouTube.
“My heart is hurting,” said Pierrette, a “Black Lives Matter” sign visible behind her during the event staged on Zoom. “Every morning I wake up with a lump in my throat. I am angry. And I am frustrated.”
She said her family was traumatized by the killing of George Floyd on May 25 in Minneapolis, by police. “My 16-year-old son and I watched the life seeping out of George Floyd’s body, watched as a police officer, who took an oath to protect and serve, pressed his knee on George’s neck against the pavement while his hands casually rested in his pockets.”
Pierrette’s comments were followed by a series of speakers that included political activists, religious leaders and politicians.
Zane Crute, president of the Mystic Valley Branch of the NAACP, recalled that “When I was very, very young the Rodney King tape came out…We thought we finally reached that breaking point. When I was in high school we had Sean Bell get murdered…When I was in college we had Trayvon Martin, we thought once again as a nation we finally reached that breaking point and things were gonna change. In 30 years nothing has changed.”
Crute outlined actions that we should take: raise our standards for police officers, ban knee and choke holds, require at least six steps of de-escalation “before violence gets involved,” that police misconduct files be open to the public and the creation of a citizen review board for law enforcement.
U.S. Senator Ed Markey gave short remarks. “Tonight’s space is meant for white folks to listen and learn,” he said. “It is our duty and my duty as an elected official to dismantle the systems of racial injustice and profiling that are a death sentence for black people across America.” He said he was co-introducing legislation to end qualified immunity for law enforcement officials.
Rabbi Jessica Lowenthal of Temple Beth Shalom offered words of hope. “We pray that what was said here tonight is taken seriously. And that we use our freedom and our voices to speak out whenever and wherever we see injustice desiring to be part of a solution rather than bystanders to the problem. We pray that one day we may all live in a world of peace.”
The event ended with a somber tribute to victims. As she recited the names of victims, Pastor Emily Hamilton extinguished 100 candles one by one until the altar was left in darkness.
The Flame Across the Nation
By Sky Malerba
The fire scorches across the country with smoldering outrage. Another senseless killing. Another black person murdered by law enforcement. A jogger shot on the side of the road. A young woman gunned down in her home. A transgender man shot after complying with police orders. A man asphyxiated under the knee of a police officer.
These deaths came to public light within a month of each other. The Black Lives Matter campaign has kickstarted the beginning of what is shaping up to be the one of the country’s largest protest movements. The sounds of flash bombs and the chatter of rapid-fire rubber bullets have sparked an even louder, opposing response from old and young saying, “Enough is enough.”
Although spring of 2020 has sent a reverberating cry across most of America, and countries around the world, there are the quiet moments. On Thursday, June 4, at the First Lutheran Church in Malden, one hundred candles were extinguished in the memory of the victims in the closing moments of an online vigil.
“The final candle is for all of those who we cannot name tonight. And those whose names we do not know. And whose names we will never know,” said Pastor Emily Hamilton.
The vigil came in the midst of a coronavirus pandemic that discouraged large gatherings. Speakers included Pastor Edsel Cadet of Cambridge Seventh-Day Adventists Church, who spoke of the need to take action:
“The other day I was driving on I-93 and a 22-year-old motorcyclist fell off of his bike in front of my car. I pulled over to help him and to keep others from running him over. And I found the other car stopped to help him and people got out of their cars on the dangerous highway to help this man who was injured on the road. They risk their lives to help this man because that is what we do when people are hurting. That is what we do when people are dying.”
“We can’t continue with business as usual while police brutality exists in our communities. We can’t go on with business as usual while our children are turned into hashtags.”
Malden High School sophomore Christelle Jean spoke of how she was only 11 when she heard about a black youth being killed by a police officer. “And what would become the trend then getting away with it. I remember the confusion. As to why they kept calling him a man. He was a few years younger than my brother where they kept inquiring as to what his past was and which activities he was involved in,” she said. “I began to feel hopeless — to feel like my life was not in my own hands. To feel like just making the wrong move would mean that I had to trust somebody else who didn’t trust me.”
Brother Melvin Sutton Junior of the Malden Islamic Center said it was the duty of all to stand up and to speak out. Quoting from a disciple of Mohammed, he said, “I heard the messenger of Allah — God — say: whoever of you sees an evil, let him change it with his hand. And if he is not able to do so then let him change it with his tongue. And if he is not able to do so, then let him hate it in his heart and this is the weakest of faith ”
Malden Mayor Gary Christensen spoke of local action. “We have signed on to the call to action by the Obama Foundation and pledged to work with our police department and the community to review our city’s use of force policies. Additionally our police department will continue to offer and expand training in de-escalation in crisis intervention and we will provide training on anti bias and equity for our staff,” he said.
U.S. Rep. Katherine Clark of the Fifth District was frank about white privilege. “I never worry that I will turn on the news and see one of my sons suffocated under the knee of a police officer. I never worry that police will execute a no-knock warrant and shoot me or my husband. I never worry that a judge will hand me a sentence that is disparate simply because of the color of my skin.”
The responsibility to reflect on privilege and accountability carried over into other communities of color. Andrea So, Board President of GMAACC said of the Minneapolis police officer, Tou Thao, seen in the videos of George Floyd’s murder, “…This shows that internalized racism and anti blackness within Asian America is real. ….We need to honor our long history and current work of resistance alongside other communities color.
“Some Asian-Americans express dismay against protesters because their businesses are affected. Let’s make it clear it isn’t the peaceful protesters or the black community that we should be condemning. It is white supremacy that is our common enemy,” So said.
CORE co-convenor Isabel Eddy offered a resource, “MaldenCORE will share a Google form where you can publicly sign your commitment to NOT call the police on a stranger who is a person of color, unless you have evaluated the situation and there is an actual crime occurring that is resulting in someone being physically harmed.” She added, “Help us bring justice here to Malden by asking the Malden police department to engage in continuous and mandatory anti-racism training and de-escalation training.”
From the First Parish in Malden, a Unitarian Universalist congregation, Reverend Otto O’Connor had this to say, “Spirit of life, who has so many names, witness our despair, witness our rage and move us to action, to demand justice in defense of black and brown lives, in our communities, in our countries and across our world. Black lives matter.”
With face masks and signs, Malden residents march and rally
By Anne D’Urso Rose and Amanda Hurley
More than a thousand people, most of them with masks, marched from Malden High School to Lincoln Commons Park in the afternoon of Friday, June 6. Organized by local youth activists, the rally in the park featured speakers, poets, and vocalists who shared their rage, their call to action, their pleas for change and their dreams for a better tomorrow.
In the final speech of the rally, Birukti Tsige, a Malden High School graduate who now attends Harvard University, asked participants to continue their support not just today, not just tomorrow, and not just while the hashtag is still trending. “I need you to be an accomplice for change consistently, or else this was for nothing. So remember that.”