Southwick students host protest against police brutality, racism

Dozens of students stood outside the First Congregational Church to protest racism and police brutality in response to the death of George Floyd. (PETER CURRIER PHOTO)

SOUTHWICK- Inspired by the unrest happening throughout the country, dozens of Southwick Regional School students held their own peaceful protest against racism and police brutality Sunday afternoon on the sidewalk outside of the First Congregational Church. 

The protesters, consisting mostly of high school students, held signs with sayings such as “Black Lives Matter” and “Stop police brutality.” Some held signs with the names of black Americans who had been killed by the police or had been victims of hate crimes. 

Organizers of the protest said it was also to give support to any minority residents of Southwick who feel as though they have been prejudiced against due to their race. 

The most frequent and notable name on many of the signs was that of George Floyd, a black man who was killed by Minneapolis Police Officer Derek Chauvin May 25 after Chauvin knelt on Floyd’s neck for nearly 10 minutes in the incident caught on a now viral video. Chauvin was arrested and charged with third degree murder. The three officers who were present but did nothing to stop Chauvin remain free, a point of contention for many of the larger protests.

While many of the prominent protests around the country had incidents of looting and violence between police officers and protesters, the Southwick protest remained peaceful, with few police officers keeping watch most of the time. Police Chief Kevin Bishop was present, standing at the end of the protest line on the sidewalk.

“We’re here to protect these guys,” said Bishop, referring to the protesters, “If anyone tries to go too far by harassing them, they will be made an example of.”

Southwick Police Chief Kevin Bishop looks on as Southwick students hold a peaceful protest denouncing police brutality. Bishop said the protesters had his respect, and that he was there only to protect them from being harassed. (PETER CURRIER PHOTO)

Bishop said he felt a lot of respect for the protesters and the message they were trying to send. 

While the town of Southwick has gone more than a week since the last reported COVID-19 case, every protester was seen wearing a face-mask and practicing social distancing to the extent they were able.

Max Austin, a ninth grader who started the idea for the local protest after witnessing the events across the country this week, said that he was surprised at the turnout, as he did not expect much to happen. He and others had made an Instagram page advertising the protest but got discouraged when few people RSVP’d. 

Dozens of students turned out for the protest, with some people seemingly joining or engaging in conversation with the students. Many cars that passed down the busy College Highway honked, seemingly in support.

Southwick High School Junior Brandon Haseltine was an advisor for the protest and has helped with similar demonstrations before. He said that the turnout they had early on was a lot compared to other protests he had been involved in locally. 

While it paled in comparison with what is happening in cities like Minneapolis, Seattle, Atlanta, and Los Angeles, Chief Bishop said that by Southwick standards, it was a large protest.

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