On June 4, a peaceful protest was held in Honesdale’s Central Park. The assembly of hundreds in solidarity for equality and justice was a proud day for our community. I* was proud to be a …
On June 4, a peaceful protest was held in Honesdale’s Central Park. The assembly of hundreds in solidarity for equality and justice was a proud day for our community. I* was proud to be a Honesdalian on that first Thursday and am encouraged by the prospects of a brighter future because of it.
Racism isn’t something I’ve known first-hand. My privilege allows me to learn about racism without experiencing the loss of a loved one to police gunfire in their home or to an officer’s knee on the street. We’re all neighbors, though. We should all share the hurt of someone not feeling safe in their own community. If we don’t listen to these stories and try to understand what they mean, we’re ill-equipped to make necessary changes.
Fear was shared leading up to this protest. Not the fear of institutional violence concentrated through discrimination, but fear of the other. This fear spread, like word of mouth in a small town does—when amplified by social media, it caught fire.
Outside agitators intent on damaging our small borough was the concern. Pillaging marauders from the city were supposedly headed here by the busload—that was the word on the street. Falsely presented information from one source or another got passed on without question. Falsehoods based on screenshots of dispatches prepared by hucksters were shared and began to cause alarm.
Instead of everyone joining together in chorus to end what we know as police brutality, some of us feared the unknown as it rolled through our social feeds. Instead of trusting our neighbors, many businesses closed up early. Instead of verifying rumors, many news outlets highlighted the story of unverified threats in their coverage of a peaceful demonstration against verified threats the friends and family of Breonna Taylor and George Floyd know all too well.
One local news source featured an article containing a statement made by a local elected official. This official focused nearly as much attention on unsubstantiated, impending destruction as they did on our freedom of speech or the final 8 minutes and 46 seconds of a man’s life unjustly stolen by those tasked with maintaining order in Minneapolis. Nowhere in this article can be found the word “riot,” yet it’s there, in an inflammatory headline, stoking fear among its audience. Neither the message nor the delivery channel served the people well that day.
When the stories we hear contain fantastical notions without any source material, people get scared. When our leaders casually perpetuate those notions, people aren’t comforted. When we’re afraid of the outside coming in, we blind ourselves to the true threats from within.
There were no enemy buses approaching our borders on June 4. Instead, there were a few intimidating locals in pickup trucks circling a park full of people. The only things we had to fear were fear itself and ourselves.
The myth of separation some people needed to conceptualize a large, outdoor discussion around society’s structural inequities was not used to galvanize shared resources in defense of our neighborhood. That imposed sense of difference painted peacefully protesting community members as invaders.
While walking back from the protest, I heard someone in a vehicle yell to someone on the sidewalk. They screamed, “Go home!” The reply, “I live here!” And they did live here. I know because this quick-witted protestor lives with me.
When someone drives through your neighborhood and tells you to leave, you can’t help but laugh because you’re more local than they are, but it also shakes you. There’s a flash of not feeling welcome in your own community.
If persisting over time, this may grow into a feeling of not being valued. All for what? For simply being present, blocks from your house, while looking different?
Would you want to stay in that type of community? How hard would you work for the sense of belonging you rightly deserve? What would you do if centuries of unequal treatment and systemic inequality left you disproportionately disadvantaged?
Listening to those who know these hardships first-hand makes a difference and adds perspective. Acknowledging difficult things is important. It helps us understand key items like the existence of racism, even if we don’t see it, and the importance of saying Black Lives Matter out loud. Many of us need to learn these lessons from others because we’ll never have cops mistakenly break into our houses at night or hold their legs against our necks in public.
It’s important for people to peaceably assemble and petition the government for a redress of grievances. Voices need to be heard. Our grievances are many. Only when we’ve listened and learned can we stand with our neighbors and pursue holistic change.
Lend your voice to the cause. Be it business, organizational, or personal. Equality isn’t political. We can’t make a helpful stand with silence.
The protest on June 4 was a vital step in the right direction for Honesdale and Wayne County, alongside communities all across the country. I’m proud to have been there, representing myself and everything I do.
*Derek Frey Williams makes maps, movie festivals, and other things under the project umbrella of Canaltown. You can find more H’dale stories at canaltown552.com or social channels @canaltown552.