On May 25, George Floyd was killed by a police officer in Minneapolis, MN. His death was recorded by a bystander and the video spread rapidly across social media, sparking outrage. The nation has responded with a wave of protests.
One of those protests took place in Bethlehem last Saturday in the form of a march from the Bethlehem Rose Garden to City Hall, by way of Broad and Center streets, with an estimated attendance of over 1,000.
The march was organized in part by former Northampton Community College students, Matty Fall and Michael Henriquez, who now reside in Brooklyn, but returned to the Lehigh Valley in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic. Fall graduated from NCC earlier this year and is continuing her studies in criminal justice at John Jay College of Criminal Justice. Henriquez now attends the Pratt Institute.
“We just want to bring awareness to injustice for black Americans,” said Fall. “We’ve been treated like the other for so long now. The system was literally designed against us and it keeps working against us. It keeps failing us.”
Given the scale and success of the march, one may be surprised to learn that the organizers were new to putting together such an event.
“We hopped on the computer and just looked up our protesting rights,” said Henriquez, who, along with his team of organizers, promoted the march on social media and with flyers distributed around town.
Protests demanding justice for George Floyd and other African Americans killed by the police have mostly been peaceful, although much of the national media has painted a different picture.
While some protestors may have resorted to more aggressive methods, much of the violence shown has been instigated by outside agitators, including white supremacists seen wearing Hawaiian shirts and carrying baseball bats. Other instances of violence have been initiated by the police, as seen on Monday in Philadelphia, when a group of protestors were corralled off Interstate 676 and sprayed with tear gas after the road they were blocking was already clear.
Saturday’s march in Bethlehem saw no such violence. The organizers were quick to intervene if they sensed anyone becoming aggressive.
The organizers were mindful not only of following the city’s rules for protesting and keeping it peaceful, but also of limiting the risk of spreading the coronavirus. Instructions were posted on their Facebook event page to wear masks and respect social distancing guidelines. Volunteers distributed masks for those who needed them. Still, the possibility of spreading the coronavirus was acknowledged.
“I believe that the community of Bethlehem realized that this was more serious than a pandemic and it was worth the risk,” said Henriquez.
Fall and Henriquez helped to organize another event that will take place Thursday, June 4 at 3 p.m. at the Bethlehem Area Public Library. It is billed as a peaceful stand-in with the aim of proposing solutions to combat police brutality, injustice and to stand with the Black Lives Matter movement. Attendees are asked to dress in all black attire and take similar precautions to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.
“This isn’t just a Minneapolis issue. This isn’t just a big city issue,” said Fall. “This happens all over and it needs to stop. We need change and we need a system that isn’t going to continue to harm black people.”
Although Fall and Henriquez will eventually return to Brooklyn, they hope the protests they are involved with will help to educate and inspire those in attendance to continue the fight against injustice here in the Lehigh Valley.
“The fire cannot die out,” said Henriquez.