Photo Gallery | TBlack Lives Matter Rally on two year anniversary
WILLIAMSTOWN — As about 10 "Black Lives Matter" demonstrators stood with signs raised and heads high at the Route 2 rotary Tuesday evening, a car slowed down and a male driver shouted "All lives matter!"
"Not yet, but we're working on it!" demonstrator Peggy Kern shouted in return.
The 5:30 p.m. demonstration was launched to commemorate the second anniversary of the death of Michael Brown. Brown was an unarmed black 18-year-old youth when he and Ferguson, Missouri police officer Darren Wilson had a confrontation on Canfield Drive. Wilson fatally shot Brown during the altercation and the city faced months of protest, many violent, after Brown's death. Wilson resigned in November 2014 after a state grand jury declined to press charges and a U.S. Justice Department ruling concluded that he'd acted in self-defense.
Several demonstrators are members of a recently formed group called North Berkshires for Racial Justice. The group was founded by town-based therapist Jane Berger following a July 10 Black Lives Matter rally that marched to the Route 2 intersection.
Neal Sardana was part of the July 10 contingent.
"The group stemmed from the rally because people wanted to keep the conversation going," he said.
There have been two meetings so far and the group's email list boasts 50 names, he said. The initiative plans to be a presence at a Common Folks Arts and Music Festival at the Heritage Gateway Park in North Adams on Aug. 13.
"We're definitely growing and we're going to be doing more outreach," Sardana said.
Cindy Nikitas owned the former Michael's Restaurant on Route 2 (Main Street) for many years. She said she feels strongly about the black lives matter initiative and the death of Brown.
"I was protesting the day that he was murdered with a sign that said 'I'm sorry Michael Brown,'" she said. "I am here for him because he isn't here."
Williams College student Sam Alterman of Bethesda, Maryland said he was there "because I care."
Kern said that there have been several issues with stolen lawn signs over the past two years. Signs that oppose things such as proposed pipelines or other issues are not taken but some say that "Black Lives Matter" signs seem to disappear at a rapid rate.
One sign on a privately-owned lawn was spray-painted, she said. White spray paint was used to cover the word "black" with the word "all.'
Kern said that recently, another sign was taken and a sign was later discovered on the Williamstown Elementary School property covered with what is believed to be human excrement.
"It crosses a line, that and the spray-painting," she said "Especially defecating on someone's property or a sign is pretty aggressive."
Placing the sign on public school grounds was an atrocity, she said. Equally concerning is that some residents likely know who committed the act, she said. Kern said she finds it distressing that residents of what is arguably known as a "progressive, liberal town" are committing these acts or failing to rise in opposition to such acts.
"I would like to see people stand up for racial equality with the same energy as those who oppose the (Kinder-Morgan) pipeline," Kern said. "I would like to see more visibility."
Three children were at the rally by 6 p.m., and Kerns' daughter brought a sign that said "Black Kids Matter." Kern said it was important that her daughter understand racial justice and equality.
"We teach children about the environment, we teach them about feminism, and we should teach them about racial justice," she said.
Many passing drivers honked their horns in support of the rally while a few others yelled unkind remarks as they passed.
"Stupid!" called out a male voice. "You're stupid, stupid, stupid!"
Williamstown Theater Festival apprentice Kiersten Hodgens was a pivotal force during the previous rally. Hodgens read an emotionally charged poem during the first rally and also led the march toward the rotary that day.
"I think it is very important to never forget," she said. "It is important to revisit instances like (Brown's death). Black lives matter."