GROVE CITY — “I can’t breathe ... mama.”
Protesters, filled with emotion, repeated George Floyd’s final words as they marched along East Pine Street in Grove City, stopping at the borough police station.
About 150 people of all ages marched on Thursday afternoon from East Poplar and Walnut streets, chanting “No justice. No peace,” and holding signs with messages like “All lives can’t matter until black lives matter” and “Racism is a pandemic.”
The protest was organized by Noah Wilson, a 20-year-old Pine Township man who said he wants bring to awareness to issues like racism and police brutality.
He feels that a lot of people don’t realize that what happened to Floyd can happen anywhere.
Floyd, a 46-year-old black man, died May 25 in Minneapolis after Derek Chauvin, a white police officer, knelt on his neck for nearly nine minutes while Floyd was handcuffed and lying face down in the street.
Chauvin is charged with second-degree murder. Fellow police officers J. Alexander Kueng, Thomas Lane and Tou Thao are charged with aiding and abetting second-degree murder. All four men have been fired from the Minneapolis police department.
Floyd’s memorial service was held Thursday, to coincide with many protests held across the country.
“But this isn’t about just George Floyd. This isn’t about just police brutality,” Wilson explained.
It’s also about showing there are good police in the world, and how just one bad officer could ruin it for others, he said.
Wilson said Grove City has a good police force, and he met with them in advance to discuss his plans. He also invited officers to walk alongside the protestors, which they did, also joining the crowd in prayer.
After the protest dispersed, Grove City police Cpl. Michael Allias said he was proud of how things turned out on Thursday.
He shared a statement from police Chief Dean Osborne, which said that the department does not condone or support the actions that resulted in Floyd’s death.
In his statement, Osborne said he offered condolences to Floyd’s family and are confident that justice will be carried out. He said Grove City police serves all residents, regardless of race, nationality or gender.
Police helped with traffic control as the group reached South Broad Street, where bystanders stood on or near the sidewalk, many voicing support for the protest.
The people watching including about a half dozen armed men, who said nothing as the march passed by.
Wilson said he hopes people are listening to what he and other protesters are saying, especially since some people don’t realize that racism exists in their own communities.
He and other protesters said that they have experienced racism in the area.
“This is us showing our voice,” said Mac Young, 25, who lives in Grove City.
Young said the crowd showed him that people of all colors and creeds are working to help bring unity to the community.
Frantzi Schaub of Slippery Rock, who was born in Haiti, said he is sad to see what is happening in the United States.
Schaub said there will be another protest march on Monday. His group is meeting at 5:15 p.m. at the athletic practice field across from the police station at Slippery Rock University, where he is studying early childhood education.
Trisha Albert of Grove City said she experiences racism on a regular basis – something that “hurts more” because this is a smaller town.
When asked what people can do to support the movement behind the protest, she pointed to her sign, which read, “Love thy neighbor.”
Clifford Eshelman, a friend of Albert’s, said racism is everyone’s problem, and he hopes that events like the protest help continue that conversation.
During the march, Wilson urged the protesters to show respect to everyone, even those who don’t support them.
In front of the police station, Stacia Mason of Grove City led the group in a prayer. Mason said she saw a united front Thursday in Grove City, in an acknowledgement that people need to listen to each other and reject violence.
The marchers held a moment of silence for nine minutes to represent the time that Chauvin pinned Floyd to the ground with his knee.
Wilson encouraged the group to talk to their elected officials, and to go to the polls to “vote out the hatred.”