Protesters seeking equal treatment of black people by police gather in downtown Bel Air for second straight day

More than 300 people crowded Main Street in front of the Harford County Sheriff’s Office in Bel Air on Thursday to protest the killing of George Floyd in Minnesota and what they saw as unequal treatment of black people by police writ-large across the country.

It was the second day of demonstrations in downtown Bel Air and it was not hard to see how the protesters felt; most bore signs stating their feelings. “Begging to be treated equally,” read one. “We are not trying to start a race war, we are trying to end one,” read another.


Numerous cars, and even a fuel truck, passed by and honked in support, raising a cheer from the crowd.

Chants of “Hands up, don’t shoot” rippled intermittently through the crowd, which grew throughout the demonstration, which began at 4 p.m. Another chant of “Where is the sheriff?” lasted for about half a minute. A woman with a bullhorn led protesters in those chants. By 5:45 p.m., her voice was ragged from the call and response.


Bel Air resident Kelbey Egerland said she wanted to see the sheriff stand with demonstrators against systemic racism, pointing to Floyd’s killing as one symptom of the unequal — and deadly — treatment of black people by police. The 21-year-old said she had no complaints about the Harford sheriff’s office, but wanted to see people in positions of power share the protesters’ commitment.

“We want to see he is standing with us,” Egerland said. “If he is not, he is saying he is OK with it.”

In a statement made after the protest, Harford County Sheriff Jeffrey Gahler said that racism and discrimination had no place in law enforcement or his agency. Gahler applauded the demonstrators for keeping their assemblies non-violent without “losing sight of the tragic death of George Floyd," and stated his commitment to impartial enforcement of law.

“Our values clearly state that our deputies WILL treat every person with respect and dignity, and in an unbiased manner, protect the constitutional rights of all persons through impartial enforcement of the law," the statement posted to Facebook around 8:20 p.m. Thursday said. "Anything less will not be tolerated by me. It is that simple.”

Gahler stopped short of condemning the police whose hands Floyd died in, but said that he has “trust [in] the criminal justice system to ensure a thorough review of all the facts and evidence in the case" and believes that those who break the law — civilian or law enforcement — should face consequences. The video of Floyd’s death was concerning, he wrote.

All the officers in Floyd’s death have been charged.

Egerland said she hoped the protest would spark a conversation about race in Bel Air, saying she felt that, as a white woman, she benefited from institutions that gave her an advantage because of her race. She wanted to see more people out at the protests, and said the issues raised need to be talked about when deaths of black people are not “just in the headlines.”

Kelly Davis, a demonstrator from Edgewood, said he was motivated to come to the protest because of “the pain, the fear, the frustration” and the need for change in what he sees as an unfair system.

“We need to make sure that everybody sees there is still systemic racism going on in this country,” he said. “You do not have to racial profile, or you don’t have to use excessive force on someone because of the color of their skin.”

Dmitri Robinson, 20, of Bel Air, said he went to the demonstration to protest something he thought was plainly wrong. He hoped the protest would result in increased background checks on officers and for officers to receive better situational training so deaths like Floyd’s do not happen again.

“I want my voice to be heard. Yeah, social media is a powerful thing, but it is nothing like going out and sharing what you think is right,” he said. “It is nothing like coming out and showing that you care.”

Bel Air police officers stood well over 50 feet away from the demonstration as it began, but moved closer in as protesters pushed close enough to the sheriff’s office’s glass door to look through it. Nothing could be seen past the building’s tinted glass windows, however. One security guard also stood in front of the office, but no sheriff’s deputies could be seen.


Maryland State Police troopers were also present, situated farther behind the Bel Air officers.

At one point, when a woman appeared to faint and an ambulance arrived, demonstrators applauded her as she was wheeled away on a stretcher. Temperatures approached 90 degrees in the region Thursday, and free water was available to the demonstrators.

Many of the demonstrators were younger, but attendees were of all ages. Most wore masks, but they crowded the fence line.

Allen Siegel, chaplain of University of Maryland Upper Chesapeake Health, stood on the periphery of the protest, handing out masks “to protect them from COVID while they protect our First Amendment,” he said. Chaplins, he said, are neutral.

“Chaplains, we are like Switzerland,” he said with a chuckle.

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