One person brought a sign indicating “This is Not a Riot” and, true to that message, it was a peaceful protest in Escalon on Saturday, June 6.
The rally and march in support of the Black Lives Matter movement saw dozens turn out to hear some guest speakers and follow a march route that covered a portion of Main Street, on to First, turned on McHenry and then on to Highway 120 briefly before heading back to the park.
Officials estimated the crowd at between 125 to 150 people and the event grew out of response to the in-custody death of George Floyd in Minneapolis last month and is one of several similar rallies going on across the country.
Coordinator Trinity Suriano, a 2016 Escalon High School graduate, brought in some guest speakers and worked with city officials to map out the march route. The 2019 San Jose State graduate has a degree in psychology and welcomed those in attendance. Admitting she didn’t know what to expect when she planned the event, Suriano said she was pleased and “super proud” to see the show of support. Police Chief Mike Borges and Mayor Robert Swift both offered comments as well, along with Alana Arnold, a relative newcomer to the city.
“Lead with love, lead with compassion,” Arnold said. “When I look in the mirror, I see limitless possibilities of what I can do.”
Mayor Swift noted that some of the Main Street businesses had put boards on their windows in anticipation of the event.
“They didn’t do it out of racism,” he said. “They did it out of fear.”
Fear of the unknown, the mayor explained, as they didn’t know what type of gathering the protest rally would turn out to be.
Suriano herself said she didn’t know whether anyone would show up, but the rally drew a wide variety of ages and most attending brought homemade signs to carry on the march.
“We are not here to stir things up,” Suriano stressed as she welcomed the crowd on Saturday morning. “We did not pay to have people bused in … we just want to bring the community together.”
She said that a main goal was to keep it “peaceful and to keep everyone safe.”
A planned June 20 online forum, she said, will provide another opportunity for people to share their thoughts, concerns and feelings.
Chief Borges, with more than 40 years in law enforcement, said he has seen “quite a bit” in those four decades and said his priority also is to make the community safe.
“We need to just treat each other with respect and listen,” Borges said.
Following the peaceful march, those attending reassembled in the park area in front of the stage.
Keynote speaker Eugene Kelly, a 20-plus year resident of Escalon, shared stories of how he has encountered racism during his lifetime and urged all to work together to find the solution.
“Change is only going to happen if you guys are willing to make the change,” Kelly told the crowd. “Racism is taught … it’s not inherited.”
The marchers stayed on the sidewalks all along the route and did not impede the flow of traffic. A portion of Main Street by the park was shut down for a brief time for the event, which was scheduled from 10 a.m. to noon. It wrapped up around 11:30 a.m., with Suriano again thanking the crowd and asking for a moment of silence to remember “lives lost to police brutality, racism or hate crimes.”