Tuesday’s peaceful protest against racial injustice attracted about 1,000 people to downtown Albany for an emotional and extraordinary event.
The number of attendees was amazing, and they also represented an amazingly broad spectrum of residents.
We saw friends, old college classmates, former workplace colleagues, rec league softball acquaintances, local politicians, members of our church congregations and more at City Hall and along Ellsworth Street.
People of many races and many backgrounds spoke out in protest.
Albany is a blue collar town, but if you were to summarize the nature of the event based on the attendees, it wouldn’t fit neatly into a conservative or liberal box. But as we’ve said before, concepts of liberty, equality, justice for all and due process are all-American values. They don’t and shouldn’t just belong to the left or the right.
And the death of George Floyd, a handcuffed black man killed by police as he pleaded for air, is contrary to those ideas.
His death sparked these protests across the nation, but as one speaker noted, what happened to Floyd is simply the latest in a long list of atrocities against black people due to racism in the United States.
In many ways, Tuesday’s demonstration was reminiscent of the protest at the Benton County Courthouse in Corvallis on Sunday, where we also recognized many familiar faces, despite the surgical-style masks worn to ward off coronavirus. And the event remained an overwhelming success for many of the same reasons.
First and foremost, demonstrators showed self-restraint and were determined that the protest should remain peaceful.
Organizers urged attendees to avoid confrontations, even though there were a few interlopers who tried to escalate things. But just like in Corvallis, protesters were there to make a point, not to instigate or retaliate with violence. They kept their cool during tense moments.
Secondly, much like in Corvallis, police weren’t antagonistic to those at the event.
APD officers were present in uniform but on a very human scale. They weren’t wearing riot gear because “we weren’t there for a riot,” said Capt. Brad Liles.
Law enforcement was there to protect people’s right to assemble and speak safely about injustices happening across the country, Liles added.
Other agencies, including the Oregon State Police, Linn and Benton County sheriff’s offices and the Lebanon and Corvallis police departments assisted APD on the periphery of the demonstration, just in case there was trouble.
APD had its own officers amongst the crowd, but not in overwhelming numbers. It was a savvy move. Albany is a small town, and these officers were neighbors, family friends, or even family to some demonstrators.
Third, protest organizers and police actually coordinated with each other to make sure things went smoothly.
At the end of the event, there was a candlelight vigil, and attendees also knelt for about nine minutes – roughly the amount of time that a white officer pressed his knee into Floyd’s neck.
Authorities created a barricade on Broadalbin Street with two buses on loan from Greater Albany Public Schools to ensure there was enough space for demonstrators to gather safely. The plaza at City Hall, after all, wasn’t big enough to contain the massive crowd.
The tactic with school buses also ensured the event wasn’t disrupted by motorists trying to drive through. If you recall, in other communities in the United States, thugs have mown down protesters with their vehicles.
Tuesday’s demonstration in Albany, like Sunday’s protest in Corvallis, and like similar peaceful events in Burns and Pendleton and other Oregon towns, brings us a sense of hope that our communities are listening and are eager for change and fundamental fairness.
Two events in the mid-Willamette Valley won’t change years of systematic injustice that have occurred throughout the country. But they’re a nice start toward that goal here.
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