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Hundreds gather to protest police brutality, demand justice for Floyd

People attending Tuesday’s gathering at Riverside Park in Saranac Lake listen intently to a speaker on stage. (Enterprise photo — Lou Reuter)

SARANAC LAKE — The sound of hundreds of voices echoed through the park, all shouting the same message over and over again: “Black lives matter.”

Roughly 500 people gathered in Saranac Lake’s Riverside Park and along Lake Flower Avenue on Tuesday to demand justice for George Floyd, a black man who died as a Minneapolis police officer knelt on his neck for nearly nine minutes.

The rally follows a similar protest in Keene Valley on Sunday that drew almost 150 people, as well as widespread protests around the world, some of which have turned violent.

The rally in Saranac Lake was peaceful, with village police quietly patrolling the streets and looking on as protesters chanted, waved signs in the air and listened as a slate of speakers organized by the High Peaks chapter of the Democratic Socialists of America spoke about racism, injustice and police brutality.

The rally was held under cloudy skies, a light drizzle of rain sprinkling the crowd as a cacophony of car horns rose above passionate chants of “No justice, no peace” and “Hands up, don’t shoot.” At one point, a more somber chant arose: “Say his name,” answered with, “George Floyd.”

Hundreds of people carrying signs proceed up both sides Lake Flower Avenue after speakers finished addressing the crowd in Riverside Park during Tuesday’s gathering. (Enterprise photo — Lou Reuter)

Nearly every person was wearing a mask — a requirement by local officials who OK’d the rally, due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic — apart from one or two people.

Among the protesters was Jenna Eldried, a 20-year-old from Lake Placid who is currently attending Stony Brook University. She was inspired by her fellow students, some of whom are out on the streets in New York City protesting, to show up for the rally here.

“As a white woman, I want to use my privilege to amplify other voices,” she said. “I also think that even though we’re from a rural area, that’s not an excuse to be racist. It’s not an excuse to be silent right now.”

When Eldried saw the video of Floyd on the ground with a police officer kneeling on his neck — the officer, Derek Chauvin, has since been charged with third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter in connection with Floyd’s death — she was upset. But not shocked.

“Sadly, in the same way that I was upset, I wasn’t surprised. At this point, we’ve seen it so many times,” she said. “I’m really glad things are now happening, that we’re not so desensitized to things like that that we’re not just going to lay down and not say anything. This time, things are changing and people are upset.”

Nora Glover, left, and her mom Teresa Buckley, stand at the base of a pine tree during Tuesday’s gathering in Riverside Park. (Enterprise photo — Lou Reuter)

To the argument that the incident in Minneapolis was carried out by “a few bad apples” in the police force, Eldried said she believes the issue goes far beyond a few officers.

“The system in itself is oppressive and racist, and institutionalized racism is a real thing that we need to talk about,” she said. “By saying it’s just a few bad apples, it’s not changing anything — we’re not taking away the power of those bad apples, either.”

“I think that we genuinely need to have real police reform,” she continued. “We need to hold all police officers accountable, they need to go through trials, every single black man who is murdered by police needs some form of justice.”

Eldried added that she studied Scottish policing abroad, and she thinks the United States can learn from countries with less violence.

Susan Moody, a 75-year-old Saranac Lake resident, said she felt horror, fear and disappointment when she saw the video of Floyd’s death. Asked whether she believed police brutality was systemic, she replied: “A little bit of poison on your plate will kill you.”

Two protesters hold a sign during Tuesday’s demonstration at Riverside Park in Saranac Lake. (Enterprise photo — Elizabeth Izzo)

Nell Painter, a celebrated historian, said that protests over racism and police brutality have been common since the 1960s — but she urged attendees to do something different than in the past. She encouraged everyone who showed up to keep the momentum going — and for white people to have hard conversations with each other about these issues.

She said we should not go “back to normal” after this.

Nicole Hylton-Patterson, director of the Adirondack Diversity Initiative, told people to be uncomfortable.

Her degrees, her articulateness and her hard work mean nothing when she’s pulled over by police while driving to Lake Placid, she said. She still feels fear when she sees police.

“Black people are tired,” she told the gathered crowd.

They’re tired of having to explain their experiences, she said: “You have to work on yourselves.”

She urged protestors to not stop their activism when they left the park. She said people need to call out racism in their lives when they see it and recognize their own biases within themselves.

As speakers left the bandshell, protesters took to both sidewalks lining Lake Flower Avenue and marched toward the boat launch, their voices accented by car horns as they made their way down the street.

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