ELKTON — Grassroots progressive group Cecil Solidarity held a march and rally along Main Street calling for an end to racism and police brutality in Cecil County and around the country while a small group of counter-protestors gathered waving American and Trump 2020 flags.
The group is seeking a voice in the selection of Elkton’s next Chief of Police following the recent retirement of Chief Matt Donnelly. They have pushed for some reforms of Elkton Police Department policy, such as banning the use of chokeholds, in the wake of the deaths of Breonna Taylor, George Floyd, Jacob Blake and other Black Americans at the hands of police.
Cecil Solidarity President Christine Thompson Givens, a North East native, explained in an interview with The Whig that the new chief would impact policing in Elkton for years to come.
“Why do we have to wait for police brutality to happen, for someone to be murdered to be in the streets? We want to be preventative,” she said. “We’re here to unify tonight, and to say enough is enough.”
Adriana Brown, a resident of Rising Sun and member of the pro-Trump group which gathered nearby, expressed concerns about limiting police power in an interview with The Whig.
“They’re trying to defund the police, and without the police, we have no protection,” Brown said. “I am here to support the idea that all lives matter. Black Lives Matter, as an organization, is garbage as far as I’m concerned.”
Another member of the pro-Trump demonstrators, Elkton resident Nira Pisami, disagreed with the idea that Black Americans face discrimination. Pisami, who is White, said her family has experienced poverty and harassment during desegregation in the 1960s and 70s.
“Are you kidding me? You’re poor, you’re oppressed? No you’re not. You’ve got it better than I ever have,” she said. “Don’t come out here and say Black lives matter. What, mine doesn’t matter?”
About 60 supporters of Cecil Solidarity, which is not part of the national Black Lives Matter group, took up the chant of ‘Black Lives Matter’ as they marched from the Cecil College's Elkton Station campus along Bridge Street to Main Street.
Members of the pro-Trump group drove past, flying the Trump 2020 flag, and cruised ahead as the march moved down Main Street.
Cecil Solidarity gathered outside Central Tavern, where customers sat outside eating dinner. Several got up and moved inside or left, while others stayed for the duration of the rally.
“I’m glad that people who are eating and enjoying their dinners today can hear this: there are clear disparities in the treatment of Black and Brown people in this country,” Givens said into a megaphone. “We’re demanding to live in peace without harassment and brutality from police or from any other white guy or woman with a gun. We’re not trying to start a race war. We’re trying to end it.”
Police kept the road clear for almost an hour as cars passed, many honking in support, before moving the demonstrators to the sidewalk to reopen the road to traffic. Cecil Solidarity organizers talked with officers, and the demonstration remained entirely peaceful aside from a few terse exchanges with passersby.
In one such encounter, a woman approached the group shouting “Trump! Trump! Four more years!” as she appeared to record video on her phone. The demonstrators drowned her out with chants of “Black Lives Matter,” and police asked her to move away after a few heated moments.
“Don’t respond to that ignorance. Put your fists up and let her know we stand in solidarity,” one speaker said as the woman walked away. “People are angry that we’re telling them they can no longer be racist. We’re not going to allow it any longer. We’re out here asking for people to say that our lives matter too.”
Members of Cecil Solidarity, as well as the small group of pro-Trump demonstrators, hoped that things would stay peaceful.
“I am totally opposed to any type of violence to make a point,” Adriana Brown said. “Martin Luther King changed the world by being peaceful.”
Givens said she wants to have an honest and open conversation about the facts of racial discrimination in policing to make Cecil County a more welcoming place to people of all races. It’s important to keep the big picture in mind, she added.
“Almost 60 years ago, we were standing out here doing the same thing and begging people to realize that our lives matter,” she said at another point in the rally. “Different slogan — ‘I have a dream.’ We’re saying ‘Black lives matter.’ But it’s all the same.”
As the rally came to a close, participants held a moment of silence for Chadwick Boseman, the star of Marvel’s Black Panther who passed away from cancer at the end of August. Speakers reflected on the importance of Black people seeing their stories celebrated on the big screen
Givens said she loves being Black, but added that it can be a blessing and a curse.
“On one hand, you’re proud of who you are and your culture as Black people and what we’ve been able to overcome over the last 100 years,” she said. “On the other hand, it’s terrifying. It’s literally living in a constant state of turmoil every single day to be Black in America.”
CORRECTION: This story previously misstated the name of Cecil College's Elkton Station campus as Cecil College of Art and Design.