OCEAN CITY – As images of violence and destruction were broadcast around the nation, and the day after President Trump vowed to send the military into American cities to quell protests, several hundred people marched into downtown Ocean City June 2, many carrying signs that said “Black Lives Matter.”
They gathered in a throng before the Ocean City Police Department, chanting slogans and calling for an end to racism.
“I want you all to know that you are most welcome here,” Lt. Pat Randles told the crowd. “We are here for you.”
A member of the city’s community policing unit, he and Sgt. Tyrone Rolls rode the route of the march before the protesters reached the city.
Once in town, many gathered in a wide circle in the street in front of the building that serves as the city’s police headquarters. With no microphones, several speakers shouted to the crowd.
“It’s time to pick a side right now,” said one of the speakers. Jaien Turney, of Mays Landing, took a knee when he spoke, and the crowd followed his example. People must confront racism, he said, among their friends, family members and coworkers.
The march came into being after it was announced on social media, and there were no apparent leaders beyond those the crowd was willing to listen to. They included black and white protesters, men and women.
None of the participants interviewed knew who organized the event.
Police blocked off Central Avenue between Eighth and Ninth streets. There were officers stationed at intersections along the route from the bridge to the Public Safety Building and officers surrounding the crowd. The Ocean City officers did not wear riot gear, with the one visible helmet worn by a motorcycle officer.
At the invitation of one of the speakers, Randles and Rolls waded into the center of the circle. Both men said they agreed with the intention of the march, and said all people deserve respect and protection from police.
It was clear that many in the crowd found their participation deeply moving.
It’s about 2 1/2 miles from the start of the march to its end. As marchers reached Ocean City, some local businesses and members of the Coastal Christian church handed out bottles of water to the protesters.
“It seemed like the right thing to do,” said Dan Noble, a member of the church. Pastor Matthew Stokes said the church is with the protesters.
“We support a peaceful protest,” he said.
The event began at 1 p.m.
In Somers Point, at the foot of the Route 52 Causeway, businesses were boarded up with helmeted police officers brandishing wooden batons as people gathered to protest the death of George Floyd in police custody. A popular restaurant had plywood over the windows and armed private security in the parking lot.
One Ocean City restaurant had boarded windows, which were festooned with paper peace signs.
Somers Point police did not appear to interact with the protesters at all.
There was little police presence along the route, either. The marchers walked along a pedestrian lane separated from traffic. Several participants yelled at a young man who jumped the divider, concerned for his safety.
Many drivers honked in apparent support, often raising a fist in the air. A few honked to call attention to their obscene gestures.
“I don’t understand. Why would you be angry about ending racism?” said a young man, who declined to give his name.
Tabitha Brown, of Somers Point, believes it is more dangerous in the United States for a black person than a white person. She said she wants to be part of opposing racism, saying she regularly encounters racist people at the fast-food restaurant where she works.
Along the route, Laura Stokes, the wife of the pastor, walked with her son, Jesse Stokes. She said she had heard so many things from those for and against the Black Lives Matter movement that she wanted to see for herself.
“We thought we’d see what the vibe is,” she said.
She said she was pleased with the turnout and the crowd, adding that she soon met someone she knew, Pastor Steve Rahter of Praise Tabernacle in Atlantic County. He said it is a diverse congregation, and he felt it was important to participate in the event.
“We’re here for righteousness,” he said.
The protesters kneeled in front of the police building for nine minutes, roughly the amount of time Minneapolis Officer Derek Chauvin can be seen in a cell phone video with his knee on the back of George Floyd’s neck while Floyd was handcuffed on suspicion of using counterfeit money.
Chauvin has since been charged with third-degree murder, but Floyd’s death sparked protests around the country and beyond, with some cities descending into full-scale civil unrest and night after night of looting, vandalism, fires and running battles with police.
At the end of the nine minutes, someone shouted “Say his name” and the crowd called back a roar of “George Floyd.” Many later lay down in the street.
By 4 p.m., it all seemed to be over. Police reopened the street, traffic returned to normal and participants began the long walk back over the bridge.
To contact Bill Barlow, email email@example.com.
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