Vigil, march in Sunderland and Deerfield mark one year since George Floyd’s death

  • Sunderland and Deerfield residents marked one year since George Floyd’s death with a vigil along the Sunderland Bridge and at the base of Mount Sugarloaf in South Deerfield on Tuesday. STAFF PHOTO/CHRIS LARABEE

Staff Writer
Published: 5/26/2021 6:02:28 PM

The communities of Deerfield and Sunderland came together Tuesday afternoon for a march and a vigil to mark one year since George Floyd was killed by former Minneapolis Police Officer Derek Chauvin, which sparked a nationwide call for racial justice and an end to police brutality.

The event, called Building Bridges Across Communities, was organized by the Deerfield Inclusion Group and Sunderland Human Rights Task Force. More than 70 people marched from the Sunderland Public Library to the Sunderland Bridge before heading to the base of Mount Sugarloaf in South Deerfield.

Susan Triolo, the event organizer, said the turnout of about 75 people showed the significance of the movement.

“For a little town like this, on a work afternoon,” she said, “it shows you the gravity of this moment.”

The group stood at the Sunderland Bridge for 30 minutes as vehicles passed by, with drivers honking their horns in support.

Triolo noted some drivers gave the group a middle finger, but she said it is better to avoid reacting to it.

“Our natural response is to do something negative back,” she said. “This is a non-violent movement. … We don’t react, we stand and we smile.”

Lu Vincent, one of the co-founders at the Deerfield Inclusion Group, said while the event was marking a somber moment, it was a great moment for the community as it emerges from the pandemic.

“It’s a sad commemoration,” Vincent said, “but we’re here in person, in our bodies. It’s been really great after a tough year.”

She said Tuesday’s event was just another example of how both community groups are doing “crossover work.” Triolo and Vincent said both groups have been in an open dialogue with the police departments and selectboards in both towns.

Vincent said the Deerfield Inclusion Group and Sunderland Human Rights Task Force are “truly grassroots organizing,” and that their relationships with the towns are great.

“There’s work to be done,” Vincent said, “but there’s not a contentious attitude.”

After 30 minutes on the bridge, the group made its way to the Deerfield side where the event’s organizers read poetry and talked about the vigil.

Before beginning the poetry segment, Vincent noted the event was being held on “unceded territory” of Native Americans, and acknowledged the dark legacy of slavery “persists today as we continue to work toward racial justice.”

Supportive honks from drivers became the event’s background music as poems by Emily Dickinson and Langston Hughes were read by Suzanne Ryan and Aaron Falbel.

Triolo said Tuesday’s vigil was a chance for people to come together and remind the world about the pursuit of racial justice.

“We want people to walk away from this event today and say, ‘I went to an event with 75 people in the name of racial justice and equality,’” she said during her speech. “Nobody can do everything, but everybody can do something.”

To wrap up the vigil, Vincent read a list of unarmed Black people who have been killed by police for nine and a half minutes, representing how long Chauvin kneeled on Floyd’s neck until he died. Chauvin was convicted in April of second-degree unintentional murder, third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter.

Vincent said achieving a just world involves “conscious addressing” of inequalities.

“It’s going to be a long haul,” she said, “but it’s starting.”

Event attendee Lisa Middents said the events of the past year have opened her eyes. She recalled how last summer, a friend of her son gave a speech about “The Talk,” which is when Black parents have to sit down with their children and explain how to act during a traffic stop.

She said Floyd’s death and that speech were what drove her to participate in racial justice demonstrations over the past year.

“(George Floyd) was the final straw,” she said. “I don’t have to worry about my kids being killed.”

Middents said the cacophony of vehicle horns in support of the group was an “encouraging” sign of progress in the community. She also said her community underwent the same sort of introspective process as other communities around the country, but that it can’t be a one-year process.

“Liberal and progressive communities looked at themselves after George Floyd’s killing,” Middents said. “But we don’t want to get complacent.”

Triolo echoed those comments and said the public must be reminded of these events to achieve a more just world.

“It’s very important for people,” Triolo said, “to continue bringing up racial equity.”

Chris Larabee can be reached at clarabee@recorder.com or at 413-930-4081.


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