Angry and impassioned, with masks on, signs in hand and car horns blaring in the background, demonstrators took to the streets today in Bethlehem — joining thousands others around the country — to protest the killing of George Floyd on a Minneapolis street on May 25.
Floyd, a black male, was killed by a white Minneapolis police officer who is shown on video kneeling on Floyd’s neck for over eight minutes after Floyd cried out that he couldn’t breathe several times. Three other officers appear to stand by and watch the officer kill Floyd. Floyd was unarmed and in handcuffs while the officer continued to apply pressure to Floyd’s neck.
The protest, which remained peaceful, lasted for about two hours on the warm Saturday afternoon, as attendees marched from the Rose Garden to City Hall and back again. Many held signs demanding justice, showing support for the Black Lives Matter movement and calling out police brutality in the United States.
“No cops, no KKK, no fascist USA!” the crowd chanted. “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere,” read one sign. At a point, many of the protesters knelt on the ground as a symbolic gesture to oppose police brutality.
For a good part of the demonstration, police presence was minimal. Rep. Steve Samuelson (D., Northampton) estimated about 2,000 individuals attended the march.
“It was peaceful… but people were pretty animated,” said Todd Watkins, a professor of economics at Lehigh and a Bethlehem resident who attended the march. “Definitely an excitement, but also pretty tense energy and frustration bubbling. Chanting, lots of honking, sign waving.”
Watkins said the situation grew more tense when a woman was hit by a car at the intersection of Church and New streets, as no streets appeared to be officially closed off for the demonstrations. Watkins said both the woman and the car were trying to cross the intersection too quickly, but that the accident was not intentional. The woman was in pain, but was helped over to a sidewalk.
“You could sense some rising tension,” he said. “Chanting got louder and more coordinated.”
Since Floyd’s death, protests have rocked the country, taking place in cities around America. Several protests, including those in Newark, New Jersey, and Lancaster, Pennsylvania, were peaceful.
But the country has seen serious destruction and violence in other cities, including those in Minneapolis, Atlanta and Chicago. Cars have been lit on fire, businesses were blown out and violence has erupted. Police have worn riot gear and fired tear gas to disperse protesters in cities nationwide. One protester was killed in Detroit by another citizen. Police in cities like New York City, Atlanta and Los Angeles have had bottles and fireworks thrown at them, and in at least one case, a police officer was assaulted. Freeways have been closed off and some cities have implemented curfews.
And now, the National Guard is being deployed in Georgia, Kentucky, Ohio and Minnesota in an attempt to gain control over the crowds and keep the peace.
Protests were also held in Philadelphia, Harrisburg and Pittsburgh, among other places in the state. Thousands of people reportedly attended the rallies. Gov. Tom Wolf issued a statement urging protesters to remain peaceful after reports of injuries and car fires.
“Everyone should speak out because no one should be at risk of harm because of oppression or racism. We have seen these injustices happen in the commonwealth, and this week, we were all shaken by the murder of George Floyd in Minnesota,” Wolf said. “As Pennsylvanians protest, I urge everyone involved to be peaceful and to keep each other safe.”
The streak of activism comes while the United States still grapples with the coronavirus pandemic, which has cost over 100,000 American lives. While states are applying various restrictions to limit group gatherings and encourage social distancing, hundreds if not thousands of people are protesting regardless of where their state stands in reopening from the pandemic.
However, at least in Bethlehem, Watkins said “just about everyone” was wearing a mask.
While those in Bethlehem gathered at Payrow Plaza outside City Hall, and some in Pittsburgh blocked traffic and marched down city streets, one man in the Steel City held a simple sign:
“Can you breathe?”