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‘We need to be heard’: Protests against racism organized in Westminster and Sykesville throughout week

In public displays pushing against racism, a pair of protests have been organized on a near-daily basis this week in Westminster and Sykesville.

Demonstrations in Westminster are being held each day at 3 p.m. on Main Street in front of the Carroll County Public Library branch, and in Sykesville each day on Main Street at 5 p.m.

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The organizers of the Westminster protests, Tarin Mclean and her aunt Joshlyn Copes, said they experienced racism frequently growing up in Westminster, making it a place where their voices needed to be heard.

“We’re two black women with black kids, black family members, and we need to be heard, especially in Westminster,” Mclean said. “Since it’s predominately white, we felt like we needed to be heard here because there are black people in this community and we feel like we can speak for them. I grew up in Westminster, she grew up in Westminster, and we feel like it really needed to be impacted here so that we have white allies.”

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Carroll County’s population is 91.9% white and 3.8% black, according to the latest U.S. Census estimates, dated July 1, 2019. Westminster is 79.5% white and 9.3% black, according to the Census estimates, and Eldersburg is 90.4% white and 3.4% black. (Sykesville population data is not included in the Census estimates.)

Mclean said members of the black community can speak up but have issues with people not listening, so having white allies to speak up for them and support them can help to get others to listen and start recognizing things.

Mclean and Copes both said they appreciated the support they’ve received from the community, including from Walmart employees who have dropped off water, random people who have donated money to them and even homeless individuals who have come out to offer support, according to Mclean.

“Everyday I come out here, tears roll for the support that this community has given us during this project,” Copes said. “It just started with me and Tarin, and this thing has grown so big and the support that has come out — the homeless, the LGBT community, just our fellow Carroll countians have been out here to support us every day.”

The two added that they have also received support from local police, firefighters and officials.

The Carroll County Sheriff’s Office is providing support to the protesters, according to Sheriff Jim DeWees. Attendance has ranged from 50 to 70 people, he said.

“There have been no issues,” DeWees said in a text message. “The events have been very peaceful and the protesters have been very kind.”

DeWees added that the Sheriff’s Office “has assisted the local police departments where the protests have been taking place to make sure everyone is able to exercise their rights.”

All the support Mclean and Copes have received has come as a shock to them both as they recalled the racism they experienced growing up in Westminster.

“I graduated from Winters Mill High School. We had white students in there who would call us the N-word,” Mclean said.

Mclean said that around that time, someone in a red truck drove by and threw an egg at her and called her a “fat N-word” as she was walking home from the mall with her friends.

Copes said she remembers seeing Ku Klux Klan rallies on Main Street in the 1980s while growing up in Westminster.

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“It was a lot. They had the KKK march out here, and they wouldn’t let the Black Panthers march,” she said. “I remember Main Street being a main marching place for KKK, and it was like they would have marches all the time.”

The KKK has shown occasional signs in recent years that it retains a presence in Carroll. The Sheriff’s Office received two calls about KKK flyers left in a Westminster neighborhood on May 26. DeWees said the flyers had also been spread in neighborhoods along northwest parts of the county and toward areas outside of New Windsor.

Now, with so much support from members of their community, they plan to continue to hold protests in Westminster until Sunday — and might continue even after that.

“I want to continue this process until we start seeing a change in the government, their laws,” Copes said. “The thing I hear is ‘all lives matter,’ but we’re not included in ‘all lives matter.’ I want us to be included in ‘all lives matter,’ and I agree that all lives matter, but black lives are not included in ‘all lives matter.’ That’s what the protest is for, so that people know that we are human just like they are — we bleed like they bleed, we’re born, just like they’re born. Our skin color should not define how we’re treated and this this my passion to be out here.”

Sykesville protest organizer Susan Casey said she had thought about her own white privilege, and instead of watching what was going on from her couch, she wanted to take action.

“I got an email from a colleague, she’s an educator and a person of color, and she said, ‘The silence from white people is deafening,’ ” Casey said. “It shook me a little bit because at first I was offended, and then I thought I am just looking at TV and saying ‘this is awful,' ‘this is disgusting,’ this is terrible.' Then I looked at myself, and I said, 'I feel like I’m being awful and disgusting because I am just sitting here clicking, and I get to turn off the TV and make it go away if it’s unpleasant. That really resonated with me, and I thought about white privilege, and instead of being ashamed, my philosophy is mood follows action."

Protests relating to the Black Lives Matter movement have been held around the country in recent days, since George Floyd died in Minneapolis last week after then-police officer Derek Chauvin knelt on his neck for nine minutes. Protesters have organized in Baltimore and its suburbs, as well as across the U.S., in expressing outrage and frustration over Floyd, a black man, dying in the custody of white police officers.

Protesting was something different for Casey, but she said she wanted to not only acknowledge her white privilege, but also reach the members of her community to take action.

“I recognize the population in Carroll County is not as diverse, so I kind of wanted to reach out to people who had like minds. People didn’t know what to do with their feelings, but they wanted to do something. So this became an outlet, and I gotta say, [Tuesday] after we finished it was such a high for all of us that our moods changed because we did something; mood follows action.”

The first protest in Sykesville was held Tuesday, and Casey said they will continue until they “make an impact.”

“We start local and think global, so I think we’ll see where things take us. I don’t feel like we’re going to have tear gas or National Guard,” Casey said. "I don’t think it’s an unsafe place to do this, so it’s also becoming a more unified group; we’re noticing that there’s more people who are uncomfortable with this than are comfortable, and we’re kind of finding each other. So it might take the form of letter writing, supporting candidates, it might evolve into something different, but I think this groundswell is pretty, pretty strong right now.”

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A flyer from Carroll Community Action Network (CAN), a grassroots organization that encourages people to create their own events and helps spread the message and rally support, advertised the protests and said local law enforcement had been providing security and had been “extremely supportive thus far.” The flyer also recommends attendees bring signs, a bottle of water and “positive attitudes.”

Even though there have been no counter protests, according to DeWees, Mclean said they have experienced some backlash.

“We’ve had a few people ride by in their trucks and rev their engines and the black smoke hit us,” she said. “We’ve had people ride by and say ‘F you’ or ‘Your life doesn’t matter.’ What we do now is just ‘No justice, no peace’ them until they stop talking. So we overpower them with our chant and ignore them because we’re not going to feed into the negativity.”

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