DELHI — A rally to honor the black victims of extrajudicial killings, mostly by police, drew more than 700 people to the Courthouse Square on Saturday, according to organizers.
Delaware County natives and second homeowners, as well as others, waved handmade signs and banners condemning police brutality, white supremacy and the murder of black people, lining both signs of Main Street for a nearly half-mile stretch in what organizer Christina Hunt Wood described as a “living monument.”
“Today, we are here first and foremost to honor black lives — Ahmaud Arbery’s, Breonna Taylor’s, George Floyd’s and so many others,” Wood said of the "Honoring Black Lives" rally. “But we’re also here to condemn the racist system of devaluing and destroying black bodies in the name of white supremacy — most egregiously, our law enforcement and justice systems, but also our schools, our government, our churches and sometimes even our county fairs,” in reference to the Delaware County Fair organizers’ prolonged unwillingness to take a public stance on the sale and display of Confederate flags at the fair.
Dozens of attendees at the "Honoring Black Lives" placed flowers in front of more than 30 portraits of black victims of police violence, planted in a cemetery-like memorial at the foot of the Soldier’s Monument, which honors Delaware County residents who died fighting the Confederacy in the Civil War.
“Our monument to black lives is living, it’s breathing, it’s feeling,” Wood said. “We are the pieces of that monument, and if we’re really going to try to make a more equitable society, we’ll need to carry this day forward and do our homework.”
“Listen, white friends, I’m an anti-racist organizer and I am black, but not every black person is going to want to do the work to educate. You’ve got to understand that many have been hollering from the rooftops to deaf ears forever,” she continued. “We’re often told that it’s freedom of speech to celebrate anti-black symbols — no, that’s terrorism. We’re told that we’re overreacting when we’re faced with crystal-clear inequity that our white friends don’t experience.”
“As a white person, I realize it’s my responsibility to fight against the racism that we all see around us. You can do the same,” said fellow organizer Quinn Kelley of Delhi.
Kelley urged the predominantly white crowd that they call on their elected officials to demand the passage of legislation outlawing lynching and expanding police accountability.
“Individually, we can all do our part to end racism at a community level,” he said. “Speak up when you hear vaguely racist comments. Step up when you see that our presence can diffuse conflict. Reach out to people who can use your help.”
“We can listen and learn from our black community members,” Kelley continued. “None of us know everything and we never will, but we all have to be willing to learn. These are difficult, but historic and necessary times. The systemic racism that has been prevalent in our society for far too long needs to come to an end, but it’s going to take everyone’s efforts.”
Several demonstrators confronted a counter-protestor, a MAGA hat-wearing white man toting a poster claiming “Black Lives Matter causes more deaths” and challenging protesters to “convince me I’m wrong.”
The man, who refused to identify himself, threatened to hit Gilbertsville resident Diana Degarmo in a confrontation de-escalated by other demonstrators.
“Some woman grabbed his sign and he thought it was me, so he threatened to hit me,” she said.
The altercation transpired in front of Xavier Temple, a 9-year-old black Delhi resident who cried in fear.
Fellow Delhi resident Will Kleisner immediately knelt beside Xavier, comforting him and assuring him that there were more good people present than bad.
“I wanted to share with my friend why we’re all here and why people like that aren’t going to be around too much longer,” Kleisner said. “Kids like him and kids like me are here to stop that kind of ignorance and hatred and make the world a better place for my kids, for his kids, for his generation, for my little brother.”
Xavier’s mother, Trista, said the incident illustrated the importance of bringing her son and his sister, 7-year-old Phoenix, to such demonstrations.
“I was a naive mom trying to shield them from this, but with everything going on in this country, I just had to bring them out here,” she said. “They need to learn this. They need to see all this. They need to witness the battles they’re going to face in life. They live in Delhi — there’s not that many black people. I need them to see this, because they don’t learn this in school.”
Sarah Eames, staff writer, can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 607-441-7213. Follow her @DS_SarahE on Twitter.