ITHACA, N.Y. — This week’s Truth & Justice Rally in downtown Ithaca went off without a hitch, just a week after the protest faced its first violent altercation since it began months ago in response to the killing of George Floyd by Minneapolis police.

The event followed its normal formula that it’s built over the last three or so months: a series of speakers on different topics talking about racial justice, hosted by weekly leader Yasmin Rashid, before setting out on a march around the city, complete with chants calling to defund the Ithaca Police Department and evoking the names of past victims of racist police violence both locally and nationwide. 

The crowd of dozens, which appeared larger than the last several weeks, cheered speakers as usual and seemed energized by the recent protests nearby, in Rochester, N.Y., where video was just released of police killing Daniel Prude, an unarmed Black man, in March. Police had been called because Prude was acting erratically, but by the time he was killed Prude was naked, handcuffed and had been placed in a hood, preventing him from being able to see. 

Rashid delivered a poem that she had written, detailing the Black struggle and emphasizing that one of her paramount desires is just for society to be honest about its treatment of Black people and the consequences they potentially face by speaking up.

“When I pray to the universe to show me how they really feel about my melination, it comes in the form of more Black and Brown bodies at the hands of slave-catchers—my bad, I mean police—and overseers—I mean judges, and full plantations—my bad, I meant prisons,” read one part of the poem.

Ithaca Police announced early in the day that the block around their headquarters on Clinton Street would be closed in anticipation of the normal marching route, but it proved ineffective as protesters took an alternate route. Word began circulating that at least some members of Common Council had gathered outside of the Ithaca Police Department, within the street closure, in order to watch the protest and potentially interact with rally-goers. As they learned of that, protesters seemed to decide to intentionally avoid the members—the crowd was already planning to keep away from IPD anyway—and decided instead to head back downtown from Southside Community Center, stopping traffic at the intersection of Cayuga and Green Streets. Rashid said the decision to avoid the station was based largely on last week’s incident, during which a lone counter-protester punched a rally attendee and was subsequently pushed to the ground. Police have said they are investigating the incident. 

For the most part, this week’s traffic interruption was peaceful. The group stopped for about 30 minutes at the Cayuga and Green Streets intersection and, despite some verbal back-and-forths with motorists, no cars attempted to breach the main group of rally-goers. Most cars either pulled to the side of the road or backed up and took an alternate route. The group then moved to the intersection of Cayuga Street and State Street, listening to further words from speakers before eventually dispersing. 

Protesters facing a line of cars on Cayuga Street. (Photo by Matt Butler)

“Fifteen minutes is shorter than any funeral,” one protester yelled at one point, facing the cars waiting in the street.

Rashid made an announcement toward the end of the rally that did generate some discussion among attendees and participants. As the event concluded, Rashid addressed those still sitting in the intersection of Cayuga Street and State Street, telling them that she is uncomfortable with attendees of the rally using the phrase “ACAB” or “All cops are bastards,” a somewhat popular chant at the events since they began in June. She has lodged her discomfort with the rhetoric before, saying that it puts Black and Brown people in increased danger of retaliation either by police officers or by counter-protesters. She said it was unwelcome at future protests and those using it may be asked to leave.

Matt Butler

Matt Butler is the Education & Public Health Reporter at the Ithaca Voice. He can be reached by email at mbutler@ithacavoice.com