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Third Floyd protest of the week in York City takes form of celebration of life, allies

Logan Hullinger
York Dispatch

About 100 demonstrators gathered in York City on Friday for the third time that week, but the atmosphere was different.

It wasn't a rowdy protest with the sole purpose of calling for justice for George Floyd, who died May 25 after a Minneapolis Police officer knelt on his neck for several minutes, leading to his death.

At its peak, about 100 people gather in Continental Square in peaceful protest for George Floyd, to remember those who have died and to celebrate the communication experienced throughout the week between community members and officials in York City, Friday, June 5, 2020. Dawn J. Sagert photo

Instead, demonstrators paid homage to allies of the Black Lives Matter movement, peaceful protests and those who have died at the hands of police as they danced and sang in Continental Square.

"This is something we've been dealing with our entire lives," said Jamiel Alexander, one of the rally's organizers. "There's a couple things being on the streets that I've realized: The fact that the young people will be heard."

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More:More than 1,000 protest death of George Floyd for second consecutive day in York

Though the attendance fell short of the thousands of people who showed up during protests on Monday and Tuesday, the speakers' passion remained front and center as they reflected on the incident in Minneapolis.

Floyd's death has further escalated tensions in the U.S., a nation already mired in the coronavirus pandemic and a struggling economy.

It immediately spawned comparisons with other cases in recent years in which a police response resulted in the death of a person of color. 

Perhaps most prominently, people have cited Eric Garner, who in 2014 died after being choked by New York City Police when he was confronted for selling single cigarettes.

Like Garner, Floyd told the officers that he could not breathe.

Mia Nilee Johnson, 16, center left, and her mother Liz Morales, center right, both of York City, stand with about 100 others gathered in Continental Square in peaceful protest for George Floyd, to remember those who have died at the hands of police and to celebrate the communication experienced throughout the week between community members and officials in York City, Friday, June 5, 2020. Dawn J. Sagert photo

But protesters have also chanted the names of other African Americans who died at the hands of police, such as Michael Brown and Philando Castile.

In York, the response has been mostly peaceful. In other cities, such as Philadelphia, the protests were marked by looting, vandalism and violent clashes with police.

President Donald Trump on Monday said he would deploy the U.S. military if cities and states couldn't keep order.

Yet the only act of violence in York City this week occurred during a protest Monday, when a woman initially tried to drive a car through the protesters blocking North George Street.

The woman got out of the car and a fight ensured, a bystander's video showed. The woman was seen with a bloody nose, and the car's rear windshield had been shattered.

No charges have been filed, said Philip Given, acting director of community and economic development.

"What we have done here in York is so different than what is going on around the country," said York City Mayor Michael Helfrich. "Because here, they have to report what we're saying instead of reporting the violence that a couple people are creating."

On Thursday, Gov. Tom Wolf announced he would appoint a watchdog and create a commission to investigate misconduct by any law enforcement agency under his purview, Spotlight PA reported.

But much more has been done in the city that sparked the protests in the first place.

The four former Minneapolis Police officers who were at the scene of Floyd's arrest have been fired. And Derek Chauvin, the white officer who pinned Floyd, has had his third-degree murder charge elevated to second-degree murder.

In addition, the three remaining men, Tou Thao, Thomas Lane and J. Alexander Kueng, have been charged with aiding and abetting murder.

On Tuesday, the Minnesota Department of Human Rights launched a civil rights investigation of the Minneapolis Police Department.

Some Minneapolis City Council members have suggested the department cannot be reformed. Instead, they proposed, the city should disband the police department, which is not new to allegations of violence and discrimination.

"Don't let them break your spirit," said Jose Lopez, who helped organize Friday's event in York City.

— Logan Hullinger can be reached at lhullinger@yorkdispatch.com or via Twitter at @LoganHullYD.