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Officers Take A Knee To End Tense Protest In Northampton, Mass.

More protests are scheduled for Tuesday around the region — including in Boston and Holyoke, Massachusetts. On Monday, hundreds of people gathered in Northampton to protest police brutality and the death of George Floyd. After a tense standoff, the demonstration only ended when officers chose to make a simple gesture.

The protest, which was organized by high school students, started in a park near downtown Northampton and made its way to the police station.

At first, it was a pretty orderly affair, with people staying on the sidewalk. Given the coronavirus, most wore masks, and – for a while – tried to keep some social distance.

Once the crowd reached the police station, there were speeches ("Too many innocent lives have been taken"), chants ("Black lives matter!") and singing ("We shall overcome"), and when the protest was officially over, an organizer pleaded for a peaceful exit.

Some people left, but a good number stuck around and the dynamic changed. Some protestors wrote graffiti on the police department building, one man jumped up on a cruiser and spat on it, and the crowd cheered when another raised a Black Lives Matter flag on a pole in front of police headquarters.

The remaining demonstrators then marched through downtown, blocking Main Street. When they made their way back to the police station, the situation grew more tense.

Officers in riot gear gathered in a municipal garage nearby and the State Police were on site. The protestors stood at the threshold, taunting the police and demanding they take a knee to show they understood their complaints.

It seemed a standoff with no end in sight until Captain Robert Powers of the Northampton Police agreed to speak with several of the organizers and address the crowd.

He said he and his fellow officers had taken an oath to protect them and “one bad hamburger at McDonalds does not make McDonald’s bad.”

That didn’t go over well and a protester insisted again he take a knee "in order to save city damages, in order to prevent chaos."

"I won’t take an ultimatum," Powers said. "If you want to talk peacefully, I will talk to you."

Powers walked away but within a few minutes, Chief Jody Kasper walked up with another officer and Major Michael Habel with the State Police, who talked about Minneapolis.

"I speak for every police officer here. We are as appalled at what happened there as anybody," Habel said. "We will gladly take a knee with you...but can I ask that this stop?"

The three police officers took a knee next to a protestor and the crowd erupted in cheers. Several protesters hugged the officers and the demonstrators dispersed.

Afterward, Kasper said taking a knee was the right thing to do, and that people need to know that police officers are as horrified by what happened to George Floyd as they are.

Before joining New England Public Media, Alden was a producer for the CBS NEWS program 60 Minutes. In that role, he covered topics ranging from art, music and medicine to business, education and politics.
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