NEW ROCHELLE, NY — Thousands of New Rochelle residents marched to City Hall tonight for a rally held in the wake of the murder of George Floyd by four now-former Minneapolis police officers on May 25th.
The rally was organized by the Next Step Forward Initiative which is comprised of up and coming leaders in New Rochelle’s Black community: Jamaal Gill (pictured above), Malik Gill, Rakeem Callands, Vaughn Parham, Renny Woodlin and Alex Fearon.
It was by far the largest crowd this reporter has ever scene in New Rochelle for any event of any kind — other than on the Fourth of July — and an impressive logistical feat which went off without a hitch (except a torrential downpour at the very end of the evening).
The evening began at 6 pm from two different points of the City: a vigil held in the parking lot outside the Remington Boys & Girls Club and a march which began from the parking lot at Beth El synagogue. As more than a thousand people marched south from the Wykagyl section of New Rochelle’s North End, another thousand stood silent for one-half of 8 minutes and 46 seconds, the amount of time Derek Chauvin kept his knee on Mr. Floyd’s neck, according to the criminal complaint filed against Chauvin.
Speakers at the vigil included NRPD Detective (retired) Tim McKnight, his son of the same name who works for the New Rochelle Muncipal Housing Authority and is a candidate for school board, Daniel Bonnet of WestCop and several others. Local officials like Mayor Noam Bramson, Westchester County Clerk Tim Idoni, and U.S. Rep. Eliot Engel and Hall of Fane pitcher Mariano Rivera were also on hand.
The group from the Wykagyl area was led by Damon Maher of the Westchester County Board of Legislators.
After the vigil, organizers directed the crowd to gather in Lincoln Park as a staging area before marching to City Hall. The large crowd, swelled by late arrivals, proceeded down Lincoln Avenue to North Avenue where police officers held up traffic so the marchers could safely proceed towards City Hall.
By the time the leading edge of the Lincoln Park group reached City Hall the Wykagyl group was waiting to greet them. A huge, euphoric cheer rippled down North Avenue as the two groups met. After brief remarks, the organizers moved to the top of the steps in front of City Hall and used a portable PA system to encourage the crowd to spread out across the entire lawn in front of City Hall.
The entire lawn was soon filled to capacity but overflowed as a seemingly endless line of marchers from Lincoln Park continued towards the area. The sidewalks were filled and still more people stood on the sidewalk on the other side of North Avenue.
At the main event, a series of nearly two dozen speakers made clear that this was a truly grassroots events organized primarily by young black men from New Rochelle, most born and raised in the City, many from several generations of family in New Rochelle. No elected officials spoke. There were no “outsiders”. Just members of the community seeking to bring New Rochelle together and be heard.
Some of the speakers spoke from prepared written remarks, others spoke extemporaneously. Some were loud and angry, some were soft-spoken and thoughtful. Some of the language was a bit rough. Some spoke to current national issues, some spoke to historical issues, some sought to provide context, some sought to speak to the white audience who had joined them for the moment, most spoke about their hopes for the future.
Rather than quote the speakers or describe then tone and tenor of their remarks we put together a video montage which includes excerpts from most of the speakers.
I should mention that several people expressed anger and concern with this reporter at the event and repeatedly admonished me to to “tell it right” which I took to mean to report on the event from their perspective. I was called out by name several times, loudly, notably by speaker Rachel Motley, a Student at Howard University and 2018 New Rochelle High School graduate who grew up in the Hollows.
Ms. Motley expressed disapproval of my past reporting on former New Rochelle High School Reginald Richardson. I have addressed that separately but I want to address a point she made more than once: “I need you to see the pain”.
I have not attempted to do that here for the simple reason that I do not know nor will I pretend to know how any of the speakers feel about the murder of George Floyd or the many other people who died as a result of police brutality or any of the other topics raised by speakers so how could I tell that right.
What I do know and can report is that, as the video above shows, many of the speakers spoke in angry tones, some came across as aggressive, some used dramatic images and foul language, some appeared to endorse or even threaten violence, some displayed a confrontational, embattled demeanor. Some were very loud, with or without the PA system. It did occur to me that quite a few people from the North End were probably a bit uncomfortable.
As it happens I was only a few feet from the speakers so I was able to closely observe each person not only as they spoke but when they paused or turned away or dropped their head. I was able too see what many of those clapping and chanting and cheering on the lawn of City Hall could not see. While I heard what they hear — a lot of anger or hostility or defiance — I did not see anger or hostility or defiance.
While every speaker had their own style and tone and body language and each was different in his or her own way there was one common thread that bound every speaker – a deep and profound sadness.
Whatever they might say or do, no matter how tough they talked, underneath it all was that unmistakable sadness.
I do not know where that sadness comes from but it struck me as the sadness of standing up in front of thousands of people and having to explain what its like to endure a lifetime of having to explain yourself to people who never have to explain themselves.
That is about as close as I can come to “telling it right” so let me leave it there.
EDITOR’S NOTE: I was not recording the entire 2.5 hours so I missed capturing video of Ms. Motley’s initial remarks which were directed at me. If any reader has that video I would like to obtain a copy and publish it.