Black Lives Matter vigil in Orange continues despite aggression

  • Rep. Susannah Whipps I-Athol, right, and vigil organizer Connie Pike, left, at Saturday’s Black Lives Matter vigil in Orange. STAFF PHOTO/CHRIS LARABEE

  • Orange’s weekly Black Lives Matter vigil at Memorial Park in Orange Saturday morning. STAFF PHOTO/CHRIS LARABEE

  • Orange’s weekly Black Lives Matter vigil at Memorial Park Saturday morning. STAFF PHOTO/CHRIS LARABEE

  • Emily Anderson, of Petersham’s Anti-Racism Coalition, and her daughters Josie, left, and Iris, right, Neukirch at Orange’s weekly Black Lives Matter vigil on Saturday. STAFF PHOTO/CHRIS LARABEE

Staff Writer
Published: 8/1/2021 6:09:50 PM

ORANGE — Harassment and threats to peaceful demonstrators created the highest turnout in weeks at the weekly Black Lives Matter vigil held each Saturday morning at Memorial Park.

More than 30 people showed up to protest for racial justice after several incidents in the past two weeks where people have yelled, revved engines and threatened the group, saying in one case they were going to “come and fix” them.

Mike Magee, one of the vigil’s organizers, said threats have escalated as the group’s numbers dwindled in the past few weeks, but the majority of people walking and driving by are supportive.

“It’s about 90 percent positive,” Magee said. “It’s a small price to pay but it doesn’t make it easier.”

One person drove by the protest while making a crude hand gesture out the window and puffing black smoke from their truck. Another man who walked by the group called them “socialists” and “racists.”

Most drivers, however, waved or honked in support as they passed by.

Magee added that everybody will have a different view and might not support their protest, but the few who make threatening gestures are crossing the line

“We don’t mind that,” Magee said of people instead supporting phrases like “All lives matter.” “All lives do matter, that’s the purpose of Black Lives Matter.”

State Rep. Susannah Whipps, I-Athol, attended Saturday’s vigil after seeing the group demonstrating at Memorial Park for the past year.

Whipps said she has always given her support with a wave and a honk of her horn, but hearing about threats toward the group drove her to be there on the grass with them.

“It’s not fair,” Whipps said. “They’re a peaceful vigil, they shouldn’t be subject to abuse.”

She added she was there to “support them and their message” and that they should not “tolerate bullies.”

“I’m sad I have to be here,” Whipps said, “but I’m happy to be here.”

Tom Ziniti, an Orange resident, said they welcome differing opinions but it can be “scary” when people start threatening them. He questioned if these people would act this way if they saw a similar vigil in a predominantly Black neighborhood.

“They’re doing it in the safety of their own neighborhood,” Ziniti said. “Would they do it in a Black neighborhood of Chicago or Roxbury, Massachusetts?”

Traci Beroldi said she believes the lack of aggressive behavior Saturday morning was a result of “safety in numbers.”

“They’re nicer (when there’s a large crowd),” Beroldi said. “It makes me a little sad that there’s people in town like this.”

Connie Pike, another vigil organizer and Magee’s wife, said she hopes the increased turnout continues, but she expects the aggressors to come back once attendance dwindles again.

“This is very encouraging. We just hope it keeps going,” Pike said. “Once there’s less people, they’ll be threatening again.”

T.J. Sweeney said he understands everyone has different thoughts on the matter and “civil discourse is good for our country,” but some people take it too far.

“There will always be folks who see things differently,” Sweeney said, “but when their expression of their views becomes threatening or hostile, that’s the line.”

Sweeney said the vigil is an expression of love to everyone in the country.

“What we’re doing is expressing our love to every man, woman and child,” Sweeney said. “Love wins.”

Chris Larabee can be reached at or 413-930-4081.

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