The protest in Yorktown started with a Facebook post.
Town Supervisor Matt Slater posted a “Public Safety Update” on Yorktown’s official Facebook page last Monday addressing rumors there would be a protest in town that night.
“According to the [Yorktown Police Department], which is actively monitoring social media and other intelligence resources, there is no indication of any such planned protest for our Town this evening,” according to the post.
Though many comments expressed relief, Rachel Frederick, a mother of three and elementary school teacher, reacted differently.
“This makes it sound like it’s a good thing we’re not protesting police brutality,” she posted below the comment.
Just six days later, an ad hoc group of Yorktown residents and high school students had thrown together a protest that drew an estimated 1,300 people.
The protest was one of nine major demonstrations in the Hudson Valley last weekend demanding a sea change in America after the death of George Floyd while in police custody just two weeks ago.
Cell phone footage from the scene shows Minneapolis Police Officer Derek Chauvin kneeling with one knee pressed into the back of Floyd’s neck as the handcuffed 46-year old black man pleads with the officer, repeatedly telling him he can’t breathe and calling out for his deceased mother as his nose bleeds onto the asphalt. Several people gather on the sidewalk, yelling at Chauvin, trying to reason with the officer, insulting him, begging him, getting him on film, but Chauvin does not relent for almost nine minutes. A paramedic finally gets Chauvin to move, and the officer wrenches Floyd’s limp body onto the waiting stretcher.
The protests started in Minneapolis, then spread to other major cities, then to smaller cities, and now large protests are being held in towns and villages, with marchers demanding the overhaul — or even abolition — of systems leading to the deaths of Floyd and other black men at the hands of police.
Organizers in Yorktown discussed the march with Supervisor Slater, as well as notifying Yorktown police, who watched the procession surge down Commerce Street from behind plastic traffic barriers blocking off cross streets. A cluster of high school students walked backwards in front of the crowd, leading call-and-response chants through a megaphone, passing it off to their peers when their voices grew horse.
Yorktown, a municipality of 36,000 forty minutes north of Manhattan, is three-quarters white and four percent black, according to census data. Protestors spoke about why it was so important to engage both supporters and opponents of Black Lives Matter in this type of community.
Julia Hoyer, who marched hoisting a portrait of George Floyd, the black man whose killing by Minneapolis police two weeks ago sparked the broadest protests in U.S. history, said there was still a lot of segregation in her village of Briarcliff Manor.
“Even in Westchester, we have our own form of racism in certain places – we have micro-aggressions – people have to recognize our own biases,” she said.
Emily Boviero, also from Briarcliff, said people her age in the town saw racism in their own families, and it was important to call it out.
“Especially grandparents — a worse generation than our parents,” she said.
Violet Corvus, who held a red-and-black sign reading “End Police Cruelty,” said it was important for people to hold protests coast-to-coast to show solidarity.
“No matter how big or small the town is, everyone should partake – all the communities should come together, because that’s how things change,” they said.
Corvus said the country needed serious police reform, and voiced support for defunding police departments.
The concept, which has only gained traction since the beginning of the George Floyd protests, envisions reallocating funds from police departments to social services, education, and other community programs in neighborhoods that have been heavily policed, preventatively addressing the root issues of crime and other crises.
Daquan Washington, who heard about the local protest through word of mouth, said he had spoken to people who thought police departments should be abolished altogether, a concept he found intriguing.
“Apart from that, there are obviously things that need working on in the White House,” he added.
The protestors met no resistance during the parade, and rumors of a counter-protest never materialized. Yorktown police stayed back at their posts near plastic barriers closing off the route to vehicle traffic. The only time they engaged the protestors was to aid with a medical emergency – a young woman fainted in the crowd and two officers rushed in after being alerted by other protestors.
At the march’s terminus, a series of residents gave speeches about inequality and police violence, with several young residents of color recounting instances of emotionally devastating racism they experienced while children.
Most of the protestors were from Yorktown and nearby communities, but at least one protestor interviewed had traveled all the way from Kingston. Protestors were conscientious of coronavirus prevention – the only bare face seen was the current orator, who quickly redonned their mask upon finishing. However, social distancing was only roughly followed during the speeches and was ignored during the march
The Yorktown demonstration was one of nine major George Floyd protests in the Hudson Valley over the weekend.
Yorktown High School counselor Daks Armstrong was the last to address the crowd, telling them the importance was not in the march, but in what they did afterwards.
“It’s not my job anymore,” Daks, who is black, said of addressing racism. “The job is for white people, quite honestly…what are you going to do? Are you going to use your privilege for something good? Because I hope you will.”