by Aaron Falbel
Three local groups dedicated to human rights and social justice will be organizing a Standout on the bridge between Sunderland and Deerfield (Route 116) on Thursday, May 25, for the third year in a row to mark the anniversary of the murder of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police.
Members of the Sunderland Human Rights Task Force (SHRTF), the Deerfield Inclusion Group (DIG), and the Hatfield Equity Alliance fighting against Racism Together (HEART) are sponsoring the gathering. Members of surrounding communities are invited to take part. Participants will gather at the Sunderland Public Library at 4 pm, where there will be materials available for sign-making, and then there will be a procession to the bridge at 4:20. The Standout on the bridge will be from 4:30 to 5:30 pm. The group will reconvene at the Libraryafter 5:30 to close out the event.
Diane Mercomes, a Sunderland resident and a member of SHRTF, underscores why it is important that we continue to mark this anniversary. “Americans have a history of forgetting about things they would rather not think about: uncomfortable things, awful things. George Floyd’s murder is just such a thing, but I am determined not to let us forget about it. We can see his life snuffed out of him, right there on video. The thing is, George Floyd is not alone. There have been hundreds of African Americans like him, perhaps thousands, whose lives have been expendable. And there continue to be others, like Tyre Nichols who was ferociously brutalized by the police. There are things in history that we say we can ‘Never Forget,’ whether it be 9/11, the Holocaust, or what have you. For me George Floyd’s murder is one of those things. He has become a symbol of something reprehensible that has been part of our society for too long, and we must never forget it.”
Rev. Randy Calvo, who coordinates the Hatfield group HEART, sees the May 25th observance as part of his religious vocation. “As a Christian and as pastor of Congregational Churches in both Hatfield and Sunderland, I approach this matter from a spiritual perspective. I take my cue from Jesus, who embraced everyone but gave special attention to the George Floyds of his day: the outcasts, the downtrodden, the lepers, the harlots and thieves — in other words, the marginalized and expendable people who Did Not Matter. These, too, were his people who deserved his love.”
Suzanne Ryan, a member of both SHRTF and DIG, acknowledges that George Floyd’s murder dredges up some painful and uncomfortable feelings for many. Nevertheless, she feels “it is important for us white people not to forget the outrage we felt three years ago and not to sink into a sense of complacency. We need to revisit that horror because it continues to be an everyday reality for people of color. And we need to remind ourselves of the murders at the hands of police that have happened since George Floyd’s and before. Coming together as a
community to mark this anniversary strengthens our resolve to continue to fight against the ongoing injustice of systemic racism.”
Like many others, Lu Vincent, a Deerfield resident and a founding member of DIG, notes that violence against people of color has not abated. “We need to mark this anniversary because police violence and harassment against Black and Brown people have not stopped. We need to raise our voices, we need to oppose and decry this situation and say as clearly as we can that it is not okay for this to be happening. It is really important that this conversation does not go quiet.”
Kim Audette of SHRTF goes into even more specifics in this regard: “We need to keep these issues in the forefront of people’s minds because things haven’t gotten any better. Since George Floyd’s murder, more than two hundred Black people have been killed each year by police while in custody or during other interactions such as traffic stops. If you are Black, you are almost four times as likely to be killed by a police officer than if you are white. I can’t imagine what it is like for a Black man to walk out of his house in the morning, whether he is 13 or 70 years old, and wonder if he’ll still be alive at the end of the day. By standing out on the Sunderland/Deerfield bridge, we are asking people to end institutional and systemic racism. We are asking whether the police are the right people to intervene when someone is having a mental health crisis and whether military-style weapons are a way to keep people safe.”
Susan Triolo of Sunderland. also a member of SHRTF, sees this commemoration as part of an ongoing movement to transform our society. “We are called to remember George Floyd because we witnessed his vicious and callous murder at the hands of a defiant cop looking straight into the camera. Since May 25, 2020, there have been so many more murders of Black men, women, children, and especially Black trans people. These people died because we live in a society with too much hatred and fear. By marking this anniversary each year, we align ourselves with a movement that seeks to create lasting racial justice in our community and throughout our country.”
Aaron Falbel of Sunderland comments on a frequent response the group gets from passers-by: “Often, when we are out holding signs that say ‘Black Lives Matter’ or signs drawing attention to the wanton murder of Black people such as George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Eric Garner, Ahmaud Arbery, or Tyre Nichols — among hundreds of others — people drive by and shout at us, ‘All lives matter!’ Yes, it’s true: all lives do matter. The problem is, we as a society don’t act that way. It is abundantly clear from what we do, as opposed to what we say, that Black lives are expendable, that they aren’t worth as much as White lives. That’s why we have to say and insist that Black Lives Matter. All lives will matter only when Black lives matter, too. We are still quite far from that mark, as the headlines regularly show.”
In addition to the standout on the Sunderland/Deerfield bridge, there will be similar standouts in Ashfield (on the Town Common), Shelburne Falls (in front of Sweetheart restaurant), and at two locations in Charlemont (in front of the Federated Church and on Rte 2 in front of the Little Red Schoolhouse). All of these gatherings will start at 4:30 pm. Visit traprock.org for other locations.