‘Something truly special’ – Organisers, protestors and speakers on Hitchin’s Black Lives Matter protest
PUBLISHED: 11:06 08 June 2020 | UPDATED: 09:41 09 June 2020
More than 500 people attended Hitchin’s Black Lives Matter protest on the weekend, leading organisers to say they have started “much needed” and “overdue” conversations on racism.
Families, police officers, local business owners and more came together on a rainy Saturday afternoon, to stand in solidarity with those protesting police brutality, systematic racism and George Floyd – whose death has sparked protests across the globe.
Speakers shared emotional poems, discussed systematic racism and the changes they would like to see in our schools’ curriculums when it comes to race. Protesters were asked to kneel for eight minutes and 46 seconds – the amount of time Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin had his knee on Floyd’s neck.
Bob Dha, event organiser and director of TenX Digital Marketing says the event was a huge success and was proud of the local community who turned out for a family–friendly and safe event.
He said: “We only had two full days to put on this event, and with our team of people and the help of the community we managed to put on a safe, family–friendly protest.
“People respected social distancing and the vast majority of people wore face masks.
“We have started a much needed and long overdue conversation on racism. I would like to thank everybody involved that made this event happen.”
Co-organiser Tony Williams added: “It was an honour to host and be involved in such a great community event. Between us, we managed to put together something truly special that will hopefully inspire conversations and change that will continue.
“What really made the event was the hundreds of people that came out to support. Without them, we would have just been some people standing on a hill.
“The support has been amazing and shows what a great community we have.”
Many of the day’s speakers were proud to see their town turn out for a brighter, better future for all.
David Levy said: “To come back to Hitchin, the town I was born in and see the strength of unity between hundreds of people was very emotional.
“I felt it was my duty to be part of the Black Lives Matter protest and it was a great honour to be one of the speakers.
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“We all need to look in the mirror and see what we can do to change people’s attitudes towards racist issues.”
Pauline Pearce, another speaker, added: “I was humbled & honoured to be asked to speak at such a historic event for such a small town.
“An event that made change in our small, humble town that will be remembered by so many for a long time. A new start for generations to come.
“Our town has always been integrated, all races and religions live side by side in harmony. The next generation are the ones now to take the batton and carry it on.”
Despite a handful of online dissenters suggesting that the event may turn violent, officers from Hertfordshire police stood alongside the protestors – in one remarkable image, Detective Chief Inspector Doug Black is seen ‘taking a knee’ next to families.
Saturday’s protest was entirely peaceful, with supervisors in place to encourage 2m social distancing at every opportunity. Stewards were armed with rubbish bags, but most were not needed as protestors left little to no rubbish on Windmill Hill.
For Amy Thurstan, 41, this was her first ever organised protest – but she almost didn’t go.
She said: “I was worried that someone would ruin it by being aggressive, or someone would wear an incendiary tee or ignore social distancing rules.
“They would ruin it for the gentle people of this town who genuinely want a kinder, fairer world. Ruin it for the organisers who managed to facilitate a peaceful protest in a littleover 48 hours. Ruin it for the wider Black Lives Matter movement worldwide.
“But, I made my sign and I went. While making my sign I realised this was my first protest. In 41 years on this planet, I haven’t felt enough rage, fear, sadness, injustice, passion, anger or despair?
“I always thought I was opinionated and vocal. I questioned that morning if I was any of those things – there has been plenty to protest about in the last 40 years!
“I cared enough today, and I’m going to try harder to care enough tomorrow too.”
North Hertfordshire Museum also shared a message on their Facebook page of the history of race relations in the town.
They said: “More than 170 years ago Hitchin’s people squeezed into a cottage on Hollow Lane, just at the side of Windmill Hill, to hear public readings of Harriet Beecher Stowe’s infamous anti–slavery novel ‘Uncle Tom’s Cabin’.
“Black lives have mattered to many in the town since the late 1700s. Hitchin was one of the first towns in Hertfordshire to form an Anti-Slavery Society, in 1828.”
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