ITHACA, N.Y. –– On Wednesday afternoon nearly 1,000 people gathered on Ho Plaza on the Cornell University Campus to begin a march to the Ithaca Police Department in honor of black lives lost due to racist violence and police brutality.
“We are marching for justice in the murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, and all of the other precious black lives lost to senseless violence in our country,” the page on Facebook created for the event says.
This week, countless protests have broken out across the country seeking justice for George Floyd’s death. Floyd was a black man killed by Minneapolis Police on Memorial Day. This is the third demonstration in Ithaca since Sunday.
The march was organized by Cornell’s Phi Beta Sigma Fraternity, Zeta Phi Beta Sorority, Lambda Upsilon Lambda Fraternity, the Southside Community Center, Cornell’s Nigerian Student Association, Cornell’s Black Students United and Occupy Ithaca. While many of the groups involved in putting the action together were Cornell based, the action was meant to be a show of community-wide solidarity.
A secondary march was also organized by high school students across the city, who joined with the larger group on the Commons before marching to IPD.
“I just hope that we can begin to translate…begin to make direct links between our history and our present and even if we don’t have black faces being pressed by white knees on Seneca street we have issues too,” Dr. Nia Nunn, president of the Southside Community Center board of directors and Ithaca College professor said.
Jelani Hoyte-King, a Cornell alumnus and his Phi Beta Sigma fraternity brother Devonte Parker who is a rising senior at CU, largely led the group of marchers from East Hill with chants of, “no justice no peace” and “I can’t breathe.”
“I’m very devoted to social action and I’m very interested in dismantling the current system we live in now,” Hoyte-King said shortly before the event kicked off. “I feel there needs to be action taking place and that’s the only way we can reverse the intentional systematic oppression that’s been put on my people.”
When marchers arrived downtown they first gathered on the Bernie Milton pavilion and continued chanting before marching for IPD headquarters. The street outside the station was blocked off by law enforcement vehicles stopping traffic while the crowd listened to speeches by community members. Speakers included Dr. Nia Nunn, Fabina Colon of the Multicultural Resource Center, Ithaca College Professor Cynthia Henderson, Black Lives Matter-Ithaca organizer Russell Rickford, some Cornell and IHS students, Nicholas Toribio, a rising senior at IC and Phi Beta Sigma brothers Hoyte-King and Parker.
Rickford from BLM-Ithaca spoke to the crowd about the capitalist systems that keep black and brown people oppressed, and about how a major cultural shift is needed to create real change.
“When they killed George Floyd, what died was fear. We are not who we were, the outrage and emotion that used to imprison us now liberates us,” Rickford said.
Dr. Nunn’s speech addressed white complicity and how white Ithacans treat their peers as less than human when they value black bodies over black minds and hearts, and dispose of those bodies through murder.
“Ithaca, we have some waking up to do,” said Nunn. “White Ithaca, you have black body property mentality too.”
Several of the non-black people of color spoke about allyship, and how anti-black racism is pervasive in all other races, and to be better allies you have to stand up and educate friends and family about how to be better and do better in order to seek justice together.
Toribio, a rising senior from Ithaca College and a Dominican man, said, “be better, do better.”
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The last to speak was Rose DeGroat –– the young woman involved in last year’s Commons incident involving police. DeGroat asked the public not to re-elect District Attorney Matthew Van Houten, who was involved in prosecuting her case.
“He doesn’t give a f*ck. As somebody that’s had a police knee on my head here by Ithaca Police, this is coming from my heart and I know what I’m talking about,” DeGroat said.
While the group was gathered in front of IPD Headquarters, the news was announced that the three other officers involved in George Floyd’s arrest and subsequent death were charged with aiding and abetting murder and Officer Derek Chauvin, the officer who knelt on Floyd’s neck for over 8 minutes, had his charges elevated to second-degree murder.
“But I want this to be known, please, this does not signal the end of the movement,” Hoyte-King said as the crowd dispersed. “This is one, small, tiny step forward in the direction that we want to go. If you want to see any significant change in this county, we cannot be satisfied.”
Michayla Savitt, Madison Fernandez, Selin Tuter and Peter Champelli contributed to this report.