HARWICH – A peaceful procession in Harwich planned for Saturday afternoon has seen a change of hands after the event received negative attention on social media.
The gathering will happen Saturday at 2 p.m. at Brooks Park.
A pair of eighth graders from Monomoy Regional High School, concerned about heightened racial tensions nationally in the wake of the murder of George Floyd at the hands of police officers in Minneapolis, came up with a plan to hold a peaceful protest march in town.
Unfortunately, once the event was posted on social media, it was met with a number of negative comments, as well as disconcerting suggestions on how protestors should dress and behave in order to avoid a riot situation. Those comments, said Janelle Brown, mother of Susannah Brown, one of the organizers of the original event, were what led to the event’s cancellation.
“The flier that they made was shared online, which others have monitored with ill intentions,” Brown said. “We decided that with the environment out there, what’s preventing people from coming to the Cape on a Saturday in June and doing the same thing?”
Brown was referring to violent clashes in cities across the country, including Boston and Brockton. Aware of the concerns, Susannah Brown said she and friend Hope Jorgensen changed the description of the event from a protest to a parade to make it widely known that the intention of the event was promoting peace.
“We decided we would take out the word protest because we wanted to be sure people knew we weren’t protesting the police department,” Susannah said. “We got some amazing responses,”
But when the event began receiving negative comments, Susannah said she and Jorgensen began rethinking things, with their parents ultimately deciding a cancellation made the most sense in terms of keeping people safe.
“People were threatening us as protestors,” Susannah said. “We didn’t want to put anyone in danger or any of the residential neighborhoods we were going to walk through.”
“It’s the timing,” said Brown. “You might have all the best intentions, but timing is everything in life. My daughter [was] the only black girl [involved]. She stands out.”
When Elizabeth Harder, Harwich delegate on the Barnstable County Assembly of Delegates, heard about the situation and the cancellation of the event, she said she was furious.
“I found out about it from the Harwich Police Facebook. I got mad. I felt like instead of thanking them for not holding it, [the police] should be supporting them,” Harder said.
When she received an email from a member of the Monomoy school committee, Harder said she replied by telling the member that she was planning on heading to Brooks Park on Saturday even if she’d end up sitting by herself. Harder said when word got out about her plan, it ballooned from there.
That’s when another group decided to assume control of the event, which will officially take place at 2 p.m. on June 6 at Brooks Park. Masks are required and social distancing is strongly encouraged.
“It’s all worked out with the police that there will be a peaceful gathering at Brooks, 2 p.m., rain or shine,” said Harder. “For those who want to march, they can March from Route 39 to 124, then down Old Colony Way, and back to Brooks.”
Harder said she felt it important to stand up to those targeting young people.
“I wanted to stand up to the bullies,” she said. “I thought it was reprehensible that people would try to scare schoolchildren into canceling something they believed in. What got me so angry was the way the kids were treated. I wanted to stand up for them.”
Monomoy graduate Lexi Roma is one of the women that took over the event, motivated for reasons similar to Harder’s.
“We were already going to go hard for this when the girls were doing it, and I just think that especially hearing the reason why they weren’t doing it really fueled us to make sure it was going to happen,” Roma said.
Roma stressed that the emphasis of the event will be on protesting peacefully in order to show that those choosing to act with violence are doing so on their own, something Roma feels social media isn’t portraying accurately.
“People think that rioting is part of the protesting,” Roma said. “I know that the people involved in this are completely peaceful. It seems like local people don’t understand the difference and I think when they see a peaceful protest, they will see a difference.”
Roma said those choosing to gather peacefully will be asked to follow guidelines on peacefully protesting, including not engaging with those intent on maliciousness.
“As long as our protestors don’t retaliate, stay silent, and remain as peaceful as possible, if someone wants to do an illegal thing, that’s on them,” Roma said.
Though ethnically diverse, Roma said most people tend to see her as white due to the lightness of her skin. But through her half-brother, who is black, she has seen and heard about treatment from others that could certainly be classified as racism.
Roma said she hopes that people see the peaceful gathering and feel inspired to ask questions. To have thoughtful conversations around race relations.
“I want people to know that this is definitely still an issue,” Roma said. “I’m glad that we have so many people coming. I think that speaks volumes.”