LANCASTER – Messages of hope and peace rang out through downtown Lancaster Thursday during a peaceful demonstration against racism and injustice.
The rally took place in response to the death of 46-year-old George Floyd in Minneapolis on May 25. Four former Minneapolis police officers have since been charged in connection with Floyd’s death after viral video shows one officer placing their knee on Floyd’s neck during an arrest.
Local minister Hollie Saunders, who helped organize Thursday’s event, said watching the video of Floyd’s death upset her greatly.
“Just seeing on TV that man, the way he suffered and died and begged for his life, and when he cried out for his momma, being a mother, my heart just broke,” Saunders said. “It was the 1960s all over again… This is 2020. This should not be going on. But unfortunately, it is.”
To start the event, a group of local ministers marched with parishioners at 7 p.m toward the bandstand at Zane Square. The group eventually grew to approximately 200 people by event’s end.
Saunders and other local ministers spent the event sharing Bible verses, words of hope, unity, and encouragement, and praise and worship songs with the community.
Saunders also spoke out against police brutality during the rally, recalling events from her youth in which she said she was injured by officers during a traffic stop.
“I’ve had police pull me over for no reason. They pulled me out of the car and they both had their guns on me,” Saunders said. “One handcuffed me and broke my hand. I mean there’s no reason to do that. I’ve had family members pulled over for no reason. We’ve all gone through it and it’s scary.”
Saunders gave praise to the Lancaster Police Department for their cooperation with the local African-American community and for being supportive to those in need.
“We’ve always had the backing of the police here in Lancaster,” Saunders said. “We’ve always been fortunate that we’ve had good police chiefs, good mayors that have supported us.”
Lancaster Police Chief Adam Pillar condemned the actions of the Minneapolis officers during Thursday’s gathering, saying those involved seemed to have forgotten their oath to serve and protect.
During his speech, Pillar emphasized how the Lancaster Police Department analyzes traffic stop and arrest data to make sure specific groups aren’t being targeted, and that each event in which force was used by an officer is captured and examined.
After speaking, Pillar got down on one knee before Saunders took the microphone as a gesture against police brutality and racism.
Allen Chapel Church Minister Evan Saunders said people of all backgrounds should be upset after watching Floyd’s death.
“If you saw that video, you should be angry if you’re white,” he said. “If you saw that video, you should be angry if you are black. If you saw that video and you are a policeman… you should be angry because you saw that. There’s nothing really different about all of us.”
Local residents Jim and Marsha Russell showed their support by bringing a sign that said “Peace Change Love” to the event.
“We felt like we needed to do something for the whole situation,” Marsha said. “[I felt] sadness for the violence, but encouraged that people all over the world are demonstrating with us. That’s good.”
LPD officers on-scene reported no incidents involving violence or otherwise occurred during the rally.