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'We are holding you accountable!' March against racism winds way through Middletown to police department

Posted 6/13/20

By Laura Hayes

laurahayes@pressandjournal.com

and Dan Miller

danmiller@pressandjournal.com

Chants of “We are holding you accountable!” echoed down Race Street as people …

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'We are holding you accountable!' March against racism winds way through Middletown to police department

Posted

By Laura Hayes

laurahayes@pressandjournal.com

and Dan Miller

danmiller@pressandjournal.com

Chants of “We are holding you accountable!” echoed down Race Street as people marched past the Middletown Police Department on Saturday.

A march against racism started with about 60 people in front of the Grace & Mercy Church on Ann Street, and it grew to about 100 as they walked through the streets of Middletown starting at about 3 p.m.

The marchers were silent, holding up their signs as they walked down the middle of the streets. When one of the marchers tried to start a chant of “black lives matter,” other marchers turned around and shushed them to be quiet until they reached the police station.

The only tense moment was when an unidentified man briefly got into an argument with some of the marchers. Otherwise, it was peaceful and lasted about an hour and 45 minutes.

“We did this for a change. We did this to actually make a difference in this Middletown community. Maybe we’ll set an example for the rest of the world,” said organizer Quortnee Noon.

The march was organized by Noon and her friend Erin MacNamara Esworthy, who lives in Carlisle. The march was inspired by Noon’s own negative experiences with the Middletown police, as well as the recent death of George Floyd in Minneapolis, who died while being held down by a police officer using his knee and leg on Floyd’s back and neck for over 8 minutes.

A police car led the crowd down the streets, and another brought up the rear. Police also blocked off side streets along the route and near the station.

Some residents watched from their porches as marchers walked by. Others cheered them on, honking their horns and yelling, “Black lives matter!”

Lori Burger pushed a grocery cart filled with at least three cases of water bottles that had been donated from Karns for the marchers.

Noon and Esworthy emphasized that the march was to be peaceful with no chanting until the crowd stopped in front of the police department. In the windows of the department were two signs that read: “We hear you” and “We support justice.”

People spoke in front of the department for about 45 minutes. On was Doreen Sawyers.

Sawyers was born and raised in Middletown and now lives in Steelton. Now in her 60s, she said her family sheltered her from racism growing up in the borough when she was a young girl.

"Racism was never explained in my family. It was love thy neighbor as thyself," she said. "In order to do that, you have to love yourself first in order to love your neighbor. Racism is a development, it's a development of a culture or a business or a platform or a government that stands to stamp on your neck so you don't achieve what they already (have) in place. They hold you back.”

Sawyers called on everyone in the crowd, not just African-Americans, to educate themselves as to the true history of black people in the United States, because their struggle today is everyone else's.

"You have know our history in order to know black lives matter. I applaud everybody who has stood up with us and is trying to understand, but to understand also that black lives matter you must understand it's not just about black lives, it's all live, because injustice concerns you too not just us. We've just been in it longer than you, that's all."

About 15 people spoke — people of different races, ages, religions, and members of the LGBTQIA community.

"It starts with the youth and I'm the youth," said Trey Lebo, a 20-year old who lives in Middletown and graduated from Middletown Area High School in 2017. "If we all took a stand together we can make a change in this town and in our schools. You're not born racist, you are taught to be racist.”

Cori John brought her 6-year old son, Connor, to the march. They live in Pineford. She said she was glad Connor came because "I wanted him to know why we are doing this."

"I was telling him we are marching so that we have a better world, to teach him that we don't treat people with skin color or sexuality or any of that differently from anyone else. I just want him to see that."

The organizers said they were pleased with how the march went.

“What happens now is we keep chanting,” Noon said. “Like we said down there at the police station is take this here and take it back home — talk to your children about it, talk to your family about it. Be that one that makes a difference in your life.”

Mayor James H. Curry III visited briefly with the marchers and the organizers before the event started. Wearing a black suit and green tie, he stood out from the marchers who were casually dressed for the event and for the weather. 

Addressing the organizers and the marchers as they gathered in the grassy area across from Grace & Mercy Church, Curry told them "Residents that know me know that no matter what the topic is or how difficult to discuss, I always support people exercising their First Amendment rights for a change. I am proud that you are doing this."

He sought to reassure marchers regarding the police they would see, saying that the presence of officers and police cruisers "is not to be combative."

"The goal for all parties is safety today, so if you see officers along the route it is nothing more than to ensure that your ingress and egress on the way to the police station is not impeded by any blockages or any traffic. That is what they are there for," Curry said. "The only goal today is for a message to be relayed, for a message to be received and for it to be safely done. I understand some of the kids were a little nervous. Hopefully that eases their mind a little bit. I wish you luck in your march today."