LANCASTER – Citizens gathered in the Fairfield County Job and Services parking lot Saturday afternoon to protest racial inequality and injustice.
The peaceful gathering was organized by the Lancaster Instigators, a group focused on expression, the arts, and bringing diversity to the community.
Local resident Jamie Brown, who helped lead and organize the event, said he was pleased with how the protest played out.
“I am encouraged that those who attended were overwhelmingly in support,” Brown said. “I am surprised that we got agitators and counter protesters to leave, because we were concerned that would override the objective.”
The protest kicked off at noon with protesters filling the parking lot while practicing social distancing due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
The event included at least two nine-minute pauses to honor the life of George Floyd. The 46-year-old Minneapolis man died May 25 in police custody, sparking protests across the country against racism and police brutality.
Alexis Sanford, 29, of Lancaster, gave an emotional speech during the event about moments where she felt racially profiled by authorities.
“Since I’ve been out here in the last three years, I’ve been pulled over twice,” Sanford said. “One of the times I was yanked out of my vehicle, all over that my tint that’s on my vehicle was illegal, which I was told by the courts it was not an illegal tint. He had no reason to yank me out of the car, I wasn’t being defensive. He told me I was being hostile. He yanked me out of my car, he threw me on the ground, and he put me in handcuffs.”
Sanford said she didn’t know the protest was going on Saturday until she passed it on the way to the grocery store. Once she saw the signs, Sanford said she knew she had to stop.
“I drove past and thought ‘is that a Black Lives Matter protest? Is that what they’re doing over there?'” Sanford said. “I’m just so proud of everybody that came out here to tell us that you care, that we do matter to you. That you guys love us no matter the color of our skin. Thank you.”
Throughout the event, protesters read poems about race and injustice, quotes, and even Facebook comments left on their event postings from people who opposed the protest.
Protesters also shouted “Black Lives Matter” chants and reflected on the deaths of other black Americans in recent years, such as Trayvon Martin, Tamir Rice, and more.
“What happened here today was just a complete organic response to the leadership of black folks across the country and black leaders that inspire us,” Brown said.
Not everyone was happy with the protest, however. A small number of counter protesters were in the parking lot when the event began but left within the first hour.
Passersby on Memorial Drive showed their support and displeasure with the protest. Those in favor of the gathering honked their horns and raised fists in solidarity, while those opposing the event could be heard shouting “all lives matter” and other phrases.
Lancaster Police cruisers were present when the protest began but left shortly after.