Protestors Gather in Rio for George Floyd

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RIO GRANDE - Protestors took to the intersection of Routes 9 and 47, in Rio Grande, June 1 to protest the death of George Floyd, an African American man who died while in the custody of white Minneapolis Police Officer Derek Chauvin, which was captured on video.

Just before 10 p.m., as the protest was concluding, police officers and protestors linked arms, forming a prayer circle in the middle of the intersection, a powerful moment of solidarity and mutual understanding and respect. The nine-hour protest happened despite eleventh-hour announcements the morning of from the town and original event organizer that it was canceled. Middle Township Mayor Timothy Donohue said in a Facebook video he was trying for 24 hours to stop the protest from happening because of concerns about violence and looting.

Erin Miller, the original organizer, said her intention was to stand in solidarity with people of color in America. She decided to cancel the event as tension rose on social media.

Rumors flew around the township that members of Antifa, a loosely connected group that takes its name from “anti-fascist,” planned to come in from out of the area. She said she was also upset by the level of anger directed at her by people who did not want to see a local protest, including death threats.

“There were people calling me a terrorist,” she said. She wanted a peaceful event that would build ties within the community.

“It was supposed to be about unity,” she said.

At 12:30 p.m., the scheduled start time of the canceled protest, there was a strong police presence at the intersection. A group of about 10 protestors held signs and solicited honks from passing cars.

Later in the day, the crowd swelled, and protestors laid in the street for eight minutes, 46 seconds, in honor of Floyd who died handcuffed, face down in the street, while accused-murderer Chauvin knelt on his neck for that length of time, according to the criminal complaint against the former officer. After five minutes and 53 seconds, Floyd was unconscious, according to the complaint.

Chauvin and the other officers on the scene were all fired, and Chauvin was arrested and charged with third-degree murder and manslaughter. He is currently in a Minnesota maximum security prison, awaiting trial in lieu of $500,000 bail.

The town’s busiest intersection was shut down for several hours, as protestors stood in the streets holding signs, occasionally chanting “black lives matter.” No looting or violence occurred, which was a problem at other Floyd protests across the nation.

Members of the Middle Township and Wildwood police departments, the county Sheriff’s Office, and other agencies were present, but police did not wear riot gear. One arrest was made for disorderly conduct, according to Middle Township Capt. William Adams, and the subject was processed and released.

After the joint prayer, the crowd dispersed, and the intersection was reopened shortly before 10 p.m.

“I have never been prouder than I am tonight of our police department,” Donohue wrote on Facebook after the protest, "and very proud of the peaceful protestors and their leaders. They also represented the best of Middle Township.”

Miller sat at home, watching on social media.

“I cried,” she said. “I have never been prouder of our community and our township.”

To contact Shay Roddy, email sroddy@cmcherald.com.