Daniel Ra / Sun Staff Photographer

Going onto their 18th week, a group of Ithaca residents rallied against police brutality and called for justice for Breonna Taylor, among other goals.

September 28, 2020

Ithacans Rally for Black Lives for 18th Week — And Are Still Marching Strong

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“How do you spell murderer? IPD! How do you spell $15 million? IPD!”

Chants like these brought the national reckoning with race into Ithaca’s streets Sunday afternoon, as ralliers demanded that those in power be held accountable for Ithaca’s history with police brutality and neglect of Black and brown communities.

Ralliers gathered around the Bernie Milton Pavilion on the Commons and marched through the streets for the 18th consecutive week, calling to defund the police and for the entire Ithaca Police Department and Mayor Svante Myrick ’09 to quit their jobs.

And after four months of protesting in downtown Ithaca, a few of the organizers created their own organization: the Ithaca Pantheras.

“One thing that could ease these conversations or issues is to actually have an organization where we could address these people’s concerns and they could send their concerns somewhere other than ‘those ragtag protesters,’” said Rochelle, one of the creators of the organization.

She added that this Ithaca group has no connection with the national Black Lives Matter organization and doesn’t get any of their money or lawyers.

“We don’t know them. They don’t know us,” Rochelle said, explaining how this new organization can network more closely with other local groups in Rochester and Binghamton.

Many of the attendees have been going to the rallies every weekend, which started in May after the police killing of George Floyd.

Jennifer Buckman, who is originally from Louisville, Kentucky, has been working and studying in Ithaca for about a year. Buckman explained that although it seems that Ithaca is a liberal community, she still found that the police have a hostile presence.

She said that she views the protests as a way to support the Louisville protests for Breonna Taylor from Ithaca, but also as a way to educate people that “Ithaca inclusivity is just a narrative,” and the city struggles with the same racism and conflict ingrained across the United States.

Ithaca organizations working to address structural racism also had a strong presence at the rally, including the Unbroken Promise Initiative, an organization that aims to advocate for Ithaca’s West Village, a low-income neighborhood with a high proportion of Black and brown residents.

Jordan Clemons, one of the organizers of the nonprofit, took the microphone during the first hour of the rally, when attendees could take the mic and have the floor to voice their concerns.

“I’m here to shine light on the things happening in the town you parade in and that you call gorgeous,” Clemons said. While speakers discussed events happening from Rochester to Denver to Louisville, Clemons focused on the problems in Ithaca, which he called “a town full of bubbles.”

According to Clemons, the Unbroken Promise Initiative aims to advocate for the “poorest, most neglected, traumatized people in this so-called gorgeous community.”

In their speeches, activists also shouted and chanted about why they’re still protesting after 18 weeks.

“There really is no such thing as a peaceful protest,” said Meek, an Ithaca native who has been attending the Commons rallies since July. “When we come out here, we come out here to agitate and disrupt. If Black people don’t get the right to sovereignty, nobody gets the right to sovereignty. If native people don’t get the right to sovereignty, nobody gets the right to sovereignty. ”

Meek said he also attended the rally last week, when a group of pro-police “Back the Blue” protesters clashed with the ralliers. He said he attempted to have a conversation with the other group, but it reached a standstill when they called him unpatriotic for not singing the national anthem.

“We advocate for life,” Meek told the crowd during his speech. “We will never be in the wrong.”

Tyler Jackson, another speaker, explained why the protests have been so persistent.

“We will never stop until the war against Black America stops,” Jackson said.

Following the speeches on the open floor, ralliers marched from the intersection of North Tioga and East Seneca streets, chanting and waving signs down Seneca and then turning onto North Cayuga Street. They continued through the Fall Creek neighborhood and turned back to Restaurant Row by the Commons, drawing attention from customers and workers.

At each intersection, the protesters stopped to chant, from “This is what democracy looks like” to “Fire fire, gentrifier” and “No cops, no prisons, we want abolition.”

The two-mile loop ended in front of the IPD building, where protesters crowded in front of the door and used the blow horn to direct questions at the IPD, including demands for police officers to quit their jobs.

Protesters also lowered the flag that was flying half-mast in front of the building. They originally threw it into a garbage can, and then took it out to burn holes in the flag and ripped it apart.

Genevieve Rand, who was not involved in the defacement of the flag, explained that the flag has been flying half-mast for a while now, presumably for those who have lost their lives to COVID-19. But Rand said this image is not enough of a statement to express the tragedy over the acquittal of the police officers who killed Breonna Taylor.

“It takes something more visceral,” Rand said.

Correction, Sept. 28, 11:53 a.m.: A previous version of this article misstated the number of weeks these protests against police brutality have gone on for. This past protest marked the 18th consecutive week Ithacans have rallied, not 17th. The headline and article have since been updated to reflect this change.