'We have to change the energy': Pittsfield protest aims to draw community together

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Photo Gallery | Protest against violence at Park Square

PITTSFIELD — Each held chest-height by a stolid-faced protester, the letters read "Black Lives Matter," and the candles set up behind them, numbering 136, represented the number of black people killed by police in 2016.

The wicks remained unlit, a poetic way of saying none of the fallen "received justice," said Kamaar Taliaferro, organizer of Saturday's peaceful Park Square protest to "voice our discontent with the wave of tragic violence sweeping our nation."

A Facebook page named the demonstration the "Don't Leave Us Black and Blue Peaceful Protest."

"What I wanted to focus on was, how do you start the conversation?" Taliaferro said. "What's the spark?"

He envisions similar protests, sparking a "decentralized," "informal" community discussion on the issues at hand.

"Even if it's just folks sitting around talking — that community aspect of things is important," Taliaferro said. "I'm not necessarily part of the Black Lives Matter movement. I recognize it's validity, and I love what they're trying to do. But people know what it means. We have to change the energy and the focus from tragic instances of violence and loss of life to people coming together."

An additional row of five candles represented the police officers killed by gunman Micah Xavier Johnson in Dallas on Thursday night.

Roughly 25 people cycled in and out of the protest for its three hours, while city police patrolled around the edges, officer Matt Kirchner approaching at the beginning to see if he could do anything to help the group, according to Taliaferro.

Responses from passing motorists ranged from small and more enthusiastic honks in support, to people shouting out "police lives matter" from passing windows.

"If you're honking the horn for more than two seconds, if you're mashing it, you're a true believer," Taliaferro said.

To the latter, he replied, "Yes, they do," saying all responses were welcome while declaiming the perception of opposing sides in the matter — that one must be either for police or blacks, not both. In Taliaferra's eyes, it's a humanist movement with the potential to aid lesbians and gays, the mentally ill, women and many more in a crusade against all that "divides us."

"That's my hippie talk for the day," he said.

State Rep. Tricia Farley-Bouvier (D-Pittsfield) made an appearance at the protest, later praising the "powerful message of engagement to solve the difficult issues we face. Calling for peace, understanding and reform for a chance at meaningful change."

Saturday's protest was organized on Facebook with little notice, and was put on without a permit, but Taliaferro said he hopes to organize a second protest in the First Street Common in the coming weeks, for which he will acquire a permit.

A former Williams College student, Taliaferro also hopes to collaborate with another former Williams student, Merudjina Normil, to put together a display of Normil's socially minded artwork. A location for that display hasn't yet been determined.

Taliaferro said there was one thing that disappointed him about Saturday's demonstration: the small number of young black males among the people who turned out.

"This is a movement for them, to unite with friends" on common ground, he said.


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