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In Amherst, Mass., A Peaceful Protest And An Understanding Of Less-Peaceful Ones

While protests continue to swell in cities across the country, hundreds gathered on the common in Amherst, Massachusetts, on Sunday to demand justice for George Floyd, the black man killed one week ago by Minneapolis police officers.

It was planned as a silent vigil. The announcement from the Interfaith Opportunities Network called for mask-wearing and social distancing.

Most protesters did wear masks, but silent? Not exactly, with chants of “Say their names”: Sandra Bland, Eric Garner, Breonna Taylor and — now — George Floyd.

A protester at a vigil on May 31, 2020, for George Floyd in Amherst, Massachusetts.
Credit Ben James / NEPR
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NEPR
A protester at a vigil on May 31, 2020, for George Floyd in Amherst, Massachusetts.

Protesters lined both sides of South Pleasant Street, holding signs bearing the now-familiar names of these victims of police violence.

Among the impromptu speakers with a bullhorn was Temistocles Ferreira, a hip-hop artist who goes by the name Tem Blessed.

“When I was younger, I thought my heroes were the cops — ‘til I got stopped, then I got dropped,” Ferreira rapped. “But then my heroes became the Black Panthers.”

Ferrieri said when he saw Floyd on the ground in the video of his death, he saw himself.

“I see my brother. I see my uncles. I see my sons,” Ferreira said. “It’s easy to put myself in his place. I was a victim of police violence myself. I survived a police attack back in 2006.”

Ferreira, a Hadley resident originally from West Africa, said he’s fortunate to have a home and a stable job. But his experience gives him compassion for the protesters in Minneapolis, New York, Philadelphia and Los Angeles.

“Before you judge people that are out there rioting — and Dr. King said it best, rioting is the voice of the unheard,” Ferreira said. “When you don’t have a voice, and I’m losing my voice, but when you don’t have a voice, you do things that are unlike you.”

Protesters lined both sides of Pleasant Street, as well as the center of the street, in Amherst, Massachusetts, on May 31, 2020.
Credit Ben James / NEPR
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NEPR
Protesters lined both sides of Pleasant Street, as well as the center of the street, in Amherst, Massachusetts, on May 31, 2020.

The protest was peaceful — Amherst police said there were no arrests or citations issued. But the specter of the violence occurring in other U.S. cities was palpable.

Shawn Parent is a black Amherst resident, and a veteran.

“The looting and the stealing, the killing, the beating with billy clubs —  it’s a sad place to where we’ve come to in this country,” Parents said. “But nothing’s changed. Is the dust going to clear, and we’re still going to be in the same hole? That’s what I fear.”

There was almost no police presence at the protest. A couple organizers did some informal traffic directing.

Several drivers shouted obscenities at protesters, but far more honked and shouted their approval.

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