In Hanover, Demand for Reform

Published: 8/8/2016 5:01:55 PM
Modified: 12/5/2014 12:00:00 AM
Hanover — More than 50 demonstrators briefly blocked a downtown intersection last night as part of a protest against police brutality in the Upper Valley and nationwide, as a slew of police killings of unarmed men has elicited outrage and calls for reform.

As cars honked and circled away from Wheelock and Main streets, protesters stood in crosswalks to block traffic, and chanted slogans such as “Hands up, don’t shoot” and “Black lives matter” in solidarity with nationwide protests over police use of force, including the deaths of Eric Garner in Staten Island, N.Y., and Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo.

The protesters blocked traffic for 4.5 minutes, symbolizing the 4.5 hours that Brown’s body remained in the street after he was shot in August.

Last month, a grand jury declined to indict Darren Wilson, the officer who shot him. On Wednesday, a Staten Island grand jury cleared the officer who put Garner in an apparent chokehold before he died.

“We are gathered here today in the Upper Valley to demand an end to state-sanctioned violence,” said the Dartmouth College professor who organized the event, Reena Goldthree.

In a speech, Goldthree recounted a long list of cases of police violence against African-Americans, beginning with the beating of Rodney King in 1991 and continuing to the present day — a “seemingly endless spectacle of unarmed people dying at the hands of police,” she said.

The protest was largely impromptu, she said, having evolved from a few emails among colleagues at Dartmouth to an event with scores of professors, students and community members.

Despite the theme of the protest, demonstrators and police coordinated, with police helping to hold back cars while men, women and children clad in winter clothing lay in the road to stage a “die-in.”

“It’s (a matter of) striking that balance” between the exercise of free speech and the safety of all involved, Hanover Police Chief Charlie Dennis said.

A police detective stood nearby on Thursday night capturing the scene with a video camera — to make sure no one was hurt and everything ran smoothly, according to Dennis.

Goldthree, a black woman born and raised in St. Louis, recently returned from Ferguson, a suburb of that city, where demonstrations filled the streets before and after last month’s grand jury decision.

The African-American studies professor said after the protest that she was “pleasantly surprised and really excited” by the social activism of Upper Valley residents.

Another Dartmouth professor, investigative journalist Alexis Jetter, stood before the crowd to detail what she said were police abuses in the Upper Valley.

Jetter cited Wayne Burwell, a black Wilder resident beaten and pepper-sprayed in his own home by police while suffering from a medical episode that made him unresponsive.

Vermont’s attorney general cleared the officers of criminal charges in 2010; Burwell has filed a lawsuit against Hartford police.

The death of Macadam Mason, of Thetford, was another case cited by Jetter.

In 2012, state police responding to Mason’s home shocked him with a stun gun. He collapsed and died of a heart attack; the state Attorney General’s Office declined to charge the officer involved of wrongdoing.

During Thursday’s 90-minute protest, the demonstrators also marched through downtown Hanover, displaying their handmade signs to diners in Main Street’s restaurants. Many patrons ignored the signs pressed against the windows or looked on without reacting, but one young woman flashed the group a smile and a thumbs-up, drawing cheers.

“No justice, no food,” said Norwich resident Liz Blum, playing on the social justice slogan “No justice, no peace.”

Blum, who ran voter drives in the South during the civil rights era, said that she hasn’t seen an improvement in police violence since that time.

Now, she said, “they don’t use ropes, they use bullets.”

Afterward, as the participants dispersed, Goldthree and Dennis chatted on the steps of the Collis Center on the corner of Wheelock and Main.

In an earlier interview, Dennis said that he had learned of the protest only an hour or so beforehand, when he was tipped off by email, and that he would have appreciated better notice.

“I’m sure you don’t want to arrest anyone,” Goldthree said to Dennis during their brief conference.

“We don’t,” he said.

Rob Wolfe can be reached at rwolfe@vnews.com or 603-727-3242.

Correction

A federal judge last year dismissed an allegation of racial bias contained in a lawsuit brought by Wayne Burwell against the town of Hartford and current and former police officers. Burwell’s suit, which is still active, alleges excessive force, negligence and assault and battery, among other claims. An earlier version of this story incorrectly described the status of the case.




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