Love Stortford, Hate Racism: Bishop's Stortford Black Lives Matter protest attracts 150-200 people from primary pupils to pensioners
Tears were shed in Bishop's Stortford on Saturday (June 20) at the end of a poignant and peaceful show of support for equal rights for black people.
Organisers of the three-hour event in support of the anti-racist Black Lives Matter movement – the second such gathering on successive Saturdays in the town – estimate it attracted at least 150 supporters of all ages. Some put the number closer to 200.
Like the previous week's event, people gathered outside the library in The Causeway, but yesterday, as a result of the numbers – at least 15 times last Saturday's attendance – they made their way to the bandstand area in Sworder's Field across the road to be able to observe social distancing guidelines.
Motorcyclist James Maskell, the husband of protestor Pam Maskell, halted traffic heading towards Hockerill to enable the procession to cross The Causeway.
The crowd ranged in age from primary pupils to old-age pensioners, sporting an array of home-made placards and signs with messages including "Only laundry is separated by colour", "Stop pretending your racism is patriotism" and "Equality is a Human Right – Love Stortford, Hate Racism".
They travelled from all points of the compass around Stortford – Becky Verallo-Graves drove 22 miles from Finchingfield.
They listened as 11 speakers took the megaphone to address them. Co-organisers Mave Brindley and Mary Epworth bookended speeches by black trio Faith Bamba, Shepherd Ncube and Perpetua 'Pepsi' Chikunyi, Susan Wray, Emily Dutton, Tom Dickerson, Joshua Dean, Stansted parish councillor Daniel Brett and Sue Rayner Jacobs.
Natalie Mawarire sang Michael Jackson's Heal The World.
There were two counter-protestors, one of whom heckled the speakers and left after being confronted by one of two police liaison officers who kept a watch on proceedings.
The event came almost four weeks after the death in Minneapolis, Minnesota, of African American George Floyd, who died while being arrested in the street by four police officers for allegedly using counterfeit money to buy cigarettes.
White officer Derek Chauvin knelt on his neck for eight minutes and 46 seconds while Floyd was handcuffed and lying face down, begging for his life and repeatedly saying "I can't breathe". During the final three minutes, Floyd was motionless and had no pulse while Chauvin ignored onlookers' pleas to remove his knee, which he did not do until medics told him to.
All four officers have been fired. Chauvin has been charged with murder and the three other officers with aiding and abetting murder.
Floyd's death triggered demonstrations and protests in more than 2,000 US cities and around the world against police brutality, police racism and lack of police accountability.
People have been kneeling, or 'taking the knee', in silence to honour his memory and show solidarity with the anti-racist Black Lives Matter movement. The Stortford protest ended with the crowd taking the knee for eight minutes and 46 seconds.
Faith Bamba said: "The kneeling got me bad. 8 minutes is a very long time to kneel on someone, hear them calling for their mama, hearing them pleading for air and to totally drain their last breath. How?"
Mother-of-three Karen Runyan said: "I was very moved by the speeches and the kneeling brought me to tears.
"I was reflecting on my white privilege in the knowledge that I’d chosen to come alone and leave my one-, five- and six-year-olds at home because I was scared about them being exposed to the hatred from the counter-protestors after I’d heard about people throwing rocks from their cars.
"I get to make that choice to keep my children away, but so many black mothers don’t have the choice to keep their children away from hatefulness.
"I felt my privilege today and I was so proud of all the people, and especially the young people, that showed up. I will never understand, but I stand."
Mave Brindley said: "I decided to organise these protests with the help of others because Bishop's Stortford is a predominantly white town. Some don't understand the struggles of people of colour and the privileges that white people have.
"When we protested last week, we had some very choice words from some members of the public and a small amount of abuse today, which shows that racism is very much alive in this town. We need to tackle this, because black lives matter no matter where you are."
Parents and children there included Laura Bradley with 14-year-old daughter Amelia Metson, who goes to Herts and Essex High School in Bishop's Stortford.
Another 14-year-old Herts & Essex girl who attended was Esra King, with dad Russell, a teacher at Passmores School in Harlow.
He said: "Interestingly I crossed [from the library to Sworder's Field] along with a counter-protester, and as we crossed we debated our standpoints in a peaceful way. His view was that the BLM movement was at heart a Marxist conspiracy funded by shady elements in the Democrat Party (US).
"The event seemed to grow as we were in the park. I was proud to be a part of the event with my daughter and pleased to see how it had grown from six people the week before.
"I would love to think that this rapid growth shows the people of Stortford are acknowledging that there is racism in the town and are determined to remove its stain from our lives."
Russell said that he noticed a couple of parents from his school who had come to offer their support.