‘It’s just infuriating’: Demonstrators in Towson join protests sparked by death of George Floyd in Minneapolis

Demonstrators wearing protective masks fanned out across the campus of Towson’s governmental center Sunday, taking a knee in silence for nine minutes — the length of time a Minneapolis police officer knelt on the neck of George Floyd, a black man whose death in police custody has sparked protests around the world.

“It didn’t start with George Floyd. That’s just the latest injustice,” said Reisterstown resident Jillian Downing, holding a sign that read “STOP KILLING US.” Around her, other protesters held signs declaring “Black Lives Matter,” “Silence is Violence” and “Get Off My Neck.”


Downing said the latest string of publicized killings of black men and women in police custody — Ahmaud Arbery in South Georgia, Breonna Taylor in Louisville, Kentucky, and Floyd — triggered feelings of irritation and exhaustion she felt as a Baltimore resident during the 2015 unrest in the wake of Freddie Gray’s death from injuries suffered while in the custody of Baltimore City Police.

“We want not just people of color to do something about it — we want everyone to do something about it," Downing said. "It’s not just an issue for African Americans, it’s a human experience.”


Will Schwarz, a Towson filmmaker and founder of the Maryland Lynching Memorial Project, organized the protest with Ray Bennett, a member of the Lynching Memorial Project that was formally incorporated two years ago to recognize the victims of lynching in Maryland, of which at least 44 occurred, according to The Baltimore Sun.

Schwarz estimates between 125 and 150 protesters joined the Sunday afternoon rally.

The short Towson demonstration follows protests against police brutality across the United States and the region, including in Baltimore where hundreds of protesters marched through the city Friday and Saturday. Another protest in Baltimore is expected Monday.

Derek Chauvin, the Minneapolis policeman who knelt on Floyd’s neck, was subsequently fired and then arrested Friday. The 19-year Minneapolis police veteran was charged with third-degree murder and manslaughter four days after Floyd’s death amid protests that have led to clashes between demonstrators and police in Atlanta, Chicago, Dallas, Los Angeles and other cities.

The Towson rally was held just a few blocks from where 15-year-old Howard Cooper, a black teen, was lynched by a mob of white men in 1885.

“It’s all around us,” Schwarz told demonstrators, who stood somberly and quietly. “Towson is not immune.”

The purpose of the Maryland Lynching Memorial Project “is to acknowledge the history of racial terror in this country so that reconciliation can take place,” Schwarz said in an interview before the rally. “But we can’t acknowledge this history of racial terror and ignore the presence of racial terror."

In a Friday tweet, County Executive Johnny Olszewski, Jr. wrote that the “public entrusts law enforcement officers with immense power to perform their duties. When officers abuse that power, they must be held accountable. George Floyd’s death demands that those involved be brought to justice.”

In November, a Baltimore County police officer identified only as Officer Page fatally shot 48-year-old Eric Sopp eight times during a traffic stop after his mother reported he was making suicidal threats. Sopp, who was white, did not comply with police direction to remain in his car and turn the engine off.

A gun was not found on Sopp’s person, and police would not say whether a weapon was found in the vehicle.

The Baltimore County State’s Attorney’s Office declined to press charges against Page after it reviewed the shooting.

“We’ve been living this life for years and years and we have been, you know, so concerned about doing the right thing at the right time,” said Marlene Redd, an Owings Mills resident who, with her husband, David, accompanied their 17-year-old daughter Kamila to the Towson protest. In 2015, the Redds accompanied their daughter to protests in the aftermath of Gray’s death in 2015.


“And yet … the racism and the preventable deaths continue," she said. “It’s just infuriating, it’s demoralizing, and you don’t know what to do.”

Kamila said she’s donated to campaigns for the funeral expenses for Floyd and to support the Black Lives Matter movement and Ahmad Arbery’s family.

“It takes action,” Kamila’s father, David, said. “To get involved and do things, not just keep talking about the problem.”

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