HONESDALE, PA — Despite a falsehood spread on social media beforehand and threats of violence during, the peaceful protest in Honesdale’s Central Park Thursday, drew hundreds determined …
HONESDALE, PA — Despite a falsehood spread on social media beforehand and threats of violence during, the peaceful protest in Honesdale’s Central Park Thursday, drew hundreds determined to tune out outside distractions.
The protest took place at 4 p.m. June 4 and lasted until about 7 p.m. Organized primarily by local resident Amanda DeMasi, it featured several speeches and poetry readings, interspersed with live music while protesters marched around the perimeter of the park, carrying signs and chanting slogans such as “No justice, no peace,” and “Hands up, don’t shoot.”
The demonstration almost didn’t happen. On the eve of the event, Olivia Galarza and Aleah Slish—two of the original organizers along with DeMasi—announced their decision to cancel, citing “threats from local community members as well as outside groups.”
Slish said that from the beginning, residents had been making social media posts promising to bring firearms. Though “disconcerting,” Slish called these posts “expected.” Less expectedly, she said they were later “informed from several different sources about outside organizations… looking to use the protest as a way to incite violence.”
Rumor began spreading on social media that the anti-fascist collective called Antifa was sending in protestors on buses. It’s unclear where the information came from, but its spread was magnified when a Facebook account called “PA State Constable, Preston Township” posted a status update that read, “It has been confirmed that ‘protestors’ [sic] are being bused into Honesdale for today/tonight’s protests. Due to the unpredictable and often violent nature of these recent and ongoing protests we recommend avoiding the Honesdale area.”
The post was later deleted, then reposted with a disabled comment section. Later, the entire Facebook account was deleted. The River Reporter confirmed that the account existed since at least July of 2019. In a testament to the power of social media in spreading disinformation, some Facebook users were still claiming that there were buses in the Home Depot parking lot, even as others posted live videos of the nearly empty lot.
Dave Harvey, who owns the Harvey Agency, has lodged a complaint with the Wayne County District Attorney and the court administrator to investigate the erroneous Facebook post.
“If it’s [a constable] and it isn’t some fake account, then this is an elected official lying and confirming false information,” Harvey said. “We can’t let our government be run by social media rumors.” He also plans to get a group of citizens to attend the next Wayne County Commissioners meeting to further publicize their concerns.
Many disagreed with the initial decision to cancel the protest, saying that they were going to the park anyway. This prompted DeMasi to continue organizing the event on her own.
In anticipation of Antifa, as well as in defiance of the protest itself, several motorists drove around the park—some trucks adorned with Blue Lives Matter, Make American Great Again and Confederate flags—revving their engines loudly, seemingly in an attempt to drown out the voices of the speakers.
Threats didn’t surprise Hanrii Padu, a Sullivan County resident who spoke at the event. Growing up, Padu said that he “experienced a lot of racism” visiting Wayne County.
“Once I heard about the threats in Wayne County, all I was thinking about was this is literally what our ancestors [experienced] and what we read about in history books at school,” he said. “They’re trying to oppress us—people that are going to try and take us down with violence, even though we want peace.”
Ben Novoa, a speaker and Honesdale resident, said that addressing racism in a mostly White community should start inside the home.
“It’s difficult to speak out in public and say that it’s wrong, it’s even more difficult to stop somebody [saying racist things] in a private setting, such as your house,” he said.
Partway through the demonstration, the crowd paid tribute to George Floyd by kneeling or lying down. DeMasi asked everybody to remain silent for eight minutes and 46 seconds. “You know why,” she said.
Throughout the event, protesters pointed out individuals carrying firearms, either concealed or openly. At least one man with guns seemed to be aiding the protest by helping people navigate traffic.
Henry Braverman, a friend of DeMasi’s, said he enlisted a group of his friends to act as a peaceful “security detail” throughout the park. He said they were keeping an eye out for anybody getting riled up, in which case they would “peacefully deescalate the situation.”
Some Main Street business owners closed down early, concerned about the rumored “buses of protesters.” Joe Armetta, the owner of Elegante Restaurant and Pizzeria sent his staff home and sat outside. “I don’t want people to get hurt just trying to earn a living,” he said. Tom Fasshauer, who owns Arts For Him & Her Too, kept the store open until its regular time. After closing, however, he and a group of family members spent the evening sitting in front of the shop, he said he “just wanted to have a presence.”
It wasn’t until after much of the crowd had dispersed that the only reported violent event of the night took place. According to videos posted on Facebook immediately after and then several hours later, Honesdale resident Damon Martin was walking with his girlfriend at the corner of 10th and Church streets, when a woman in a nearby car shouted obscenities at Martin, who is White. After a verbal altercation, Martin said the woman and two people he took to be her son and her husband approached them on foot. A “screaming match” ensued and Martin said that he was attacked by both the woman and her husband with a PVC pipe.
In the videos Martin’s girlfriend posted of the event, he is bleeding from a wound on his forehead.
Within the park itself, respect reigned. Teo, who preferred not to give his last name, came back to his hometown with a renewed sense of purpose. He recited an original poem titled “Birth of a Prison.” The crowd cheered him on throughout, as he raised his voice to be heard above the sound of revving engines:
“Make America great again? How can you not see this place was never a home for the people like me? There was never a moment in time without a division. The birth of a nation? Nah, the birth of a prison… This song’s getting old, and I don’t want to sing it to fit the mold of an angry Black boy who won’t be controlled. All I want to say now is that the hate doesn’t scare me, and we are the solution. You can jail a revolutionary but not the revolution.”