More than 100 marchers made their way through Westminster on Saturday as part of a demonstration against racial oppression in the latest of several dozen peaceful protests against racial inequality held in the Carroll County seat over the past month and a half.
Hiking in two groups, marchers brandished placards and flags, launched into occasional chants of “Black Lives Matter” and “No Justice, No Peace,” and took frequent sips from water bottles in the nearly 90-degree heat as they walked 2½ miles from two city parks into the downtown area.
As they sat on a hillside in front of City Hall, a roster of speakers took a microphone to address the group from a makeshift stage. Each encouraged action against a cultural system they said reflected “systemic racism.”
“The main thing we want to make sure to stress today is that we want you all to vote,” said Jean Lewis, president of the Carroll County branch of the NAACP, to applause. “We can’t continue to tolerate things the way they are. Register to vote, and then get to the polls, and if you know someone who can’t make it to the polls, take them with you.”
Other speakers included Erin Snell, the minister of social justice at St. Paul’s United Church of Christ in Westminster, a congregation she described as “open and affirming.”
“Racism denies human beings their inherent worth,” said Snell, who exhorted white people to be conscious of their “privilege” and to take action wherever possible to “turn up the heat” to effect change.
A Westminster man who removed a “Black Lives Matter” sign from the church two weeks ago was charged with malicious destruction of property of less than $1,000, and the church replaced the sign within a day.
Demonstrators began arriving before 11 a.m. at Dutterer’s Park and Bishop’s Garth Park in Westminster for the event, which was sponsored by the Coalition Against Prejudice. The Carroll County group has backed demonstrations in Westminster six days a week since mid-June, according to Lauren Cassell, one of its founding members.
The protests begun in the wake of the death of George Floyd on Memorial Day at the hands of Minneapolis police have sparked what some term a nationwide reckoning on race, Cassell said.
Jessica Jacques of Sykesville and her daughter Isabelle, 10, both white, were among the first on the scene at Bishop’s Garth Park.
Jacques, a teacher at Lois T. Murray Elementary/Middle School in Baltimore, said she has taken part in similar protests in her hometown. She came Saturday to show support for family members who are Black or multiracial, and her students, most of who are African American.
“I’m here because Black lives matter,” she said. “Systemic racism is alive in well in this country. We can’t go on ignoring it. We have to fight the good fight to get changes made.”
Isabelle, a rising fifth grader, held a handmade sign that read “Don’t Judge A Book By Its Cover,” the words surrounded by hearts.
“We’re all human beings,” she said through a rainbow-colored face mask. “It feels really good to be doing what’s right.”
As the racially mixed group marched past some of Westminster’s notable buildings, including the town’s branch of the county public library, the county detention center, and dozens of historic homes, the response from passersby was overwhelmingly positive.
As a portable speaker blared music, from Audra Day’s “Rise Up” to the Ben E. King classic “Stand By Me,” residents emerged from homes to take pictures, applaud and shout encouragement. Passing motorists honked horns, rolled down their car windows and offered thumbs-up.
Protesters have also staged rallies in towns more distant from Baltimore in the county, including Taneytown and Manchester, in recent weeks. Organizers and participants have described the events as peaceful and generally pleasant, though they’ve also reported incidents of heckling, yelling and obscene gestures from observers.
As one group filed Saturday along East Main Street in Westminster, a white man stepped onto a sidewalk and derided Floyd as a “criminal.”
Another white man emerged from behind him. When the marchers chanted “Black Lives Matter,” he replied, “Not to me, they don’t!”
“White power!” he added before the protesters shouted him down.
“Somebody’s mother didn’t hug him enough when he was a baby,” demonstrator Will Redifer, 40, of Hanover, Pennsylvania, who is white, said to Irish Whaley, 61, of Gettysburg, who is Black, of the second heckler, and both laughed as the group moved on.
Redifer wore a white T-shirt on which his wife, Leslie, had written the names of dozens of Black Americans he said had been killed in police custody.
“Black Lives Matter is part of my overall belief in people,” said Redifer, a self-described Marxist humanitarian who has attended numerous rallies in Carroll County and southern Pennsylvania over the last six weeks. “Life should be a cooperative game.”
“I came here today because we all need to be leaders to bring about change,” said Whaley. “If we aren’t, my people’s lives are in trouble.”
The two groups met on the grounds of the county library, where they stopped for 15 minutes of call-and-response chanting.
“No Justice!” shouted Cassell, 28, through a megaphone.
“No peace!” the crowd responded.
Cassell, who is Black, brought five of her six children to the demonstration. They ranged in age from 12 to 1.
Schoolmates have used racially offensive language toward them at times, she said, most likely out of ignorance, and her kids are just reaching the age where they understand how wrong that is rather than simply internalizing the words and allowing them to fester.
As the group embarked on its final stretch toward City Hall, Cassell said she hopes the march will strengthen her children even as it advances the cause.
“I want them to grow up in a world where they can expect to be treated as well as everyone else,” she said.