Vigil for Black Lives Draws Hundreds to Watertown Square

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Bruce Gellerman

Some of the hundreds of people who participated in the Vigil for Black Lives in Watertown on Tuesday evening.

Some of the hundreds of people who participated in the Vigil for Black Lives in Watertown on Tuesday evening.

Hundreds of people lined streets of Watertown Square Tuesday evening for a vigil for George Floyd and other African-Americans killed by police around the nation.

The event was one of many public gatherings across the nation held after Floyd’s death in Minneapolis on May 25. The local effort was organized by Watertown Citizens for Black Lives, which is part of Watertown Citizens for Peace, Justice and the Environment.

Watertown Citizens has held vigils in the past, including for Black Lives, but none drew crowds as large as Tuesday’s event. People stood on the sidewalks around the Watertown Delta, and along Main Street down to Church Street (near the Armenian Museum of America). Estimates ranged from 400 to more than 500 people.

People held signs saying “Black Lives Matter,” some had the names of those killed by police, and one said, “Stop Killing Us.” During the event, attendees kneeled for 8.5 minutes, the amount of time that the police officer had his knee on George’s neck.

Tyler Kemp-Benedict, speaking on behalf of Watertown Citizens for Black Lives, said this was the biggest turnout she had seen for any event organized by WCBL, and possibly the biggest for any Watertown Citizens event.

“Why so many? Lots of reasons, likely different ones depending partly on race,” Kemp-Benedict said. “I’m white. White people aren’t forced to be aware of race every day, but when an event of horrific injustice happens like George Floyd’s murder, it reminds us that some people aren’t free to see police as protectors of their safety.

“We feel sadness and outrage, and we want it fixed, NOW. So we pick up a sign or take a knee to mourn together and to say ‘Pay attention and fix this.'”

Kemp-Benedict added that the George was just the latest case of racial injustice, pointing to Breonna Taylor who was killed in her home by police in Kentucky and Ahmaud Arbery who was killed by a group of men in Georgia as he was jogging.

“So, I think people came to the vigil anguished and outraged over recent events and a long history of entrenched racist patterns in our society, but still hopeful enough to show up together,” she said.

The group emphasized that the event was to be a “peaceful vigil, following public health safety guidance,” Kemp-Benedict said. The event ended without incident, unlike other gatherings in Massachusetts and around the country. The Watertown Police Department even thanked the group on its Twitter feed:

“On behalf of the WPD Chief Lawn would like to thank all who attended the peaceful vigil last night. Chief Lawn attended & was impressed by the over 500 people. We are proud of Watertown and our community’s commitment to advocate for social justice. Thank You!!!”

Eric Kemp-Benedict, Tyler’s husband and part of WCBL, said he cannot speak for everyone at the event, but said that from what he heard people were happy to see that so many others had similar feelings about recent events.

“I heard that from POC [persons of color] and non-POC both,” he said. “They also seemed pleased/happy/relieved to have something they could go to in their town/neighboring town.”

For at least one group, however, the event ended on a sour note. Casey Halle and some of her friends were hanging out in Watertown Square about 15 minutes after the conclusion of the hour-long event when a car stopped.

“A man in a white car started yelling at the remaining protesters,” Halle said. “He called the crowd, including a young black girl, the n-word multiple times, and said to a very peaceful showing if we even touch ‘his city’ he would ‘f— us up.'”

Halle called the incident an isolated one during what was a “completely peaceful vigil.”

“It was sad to hear, but also a great reminder of why something like this is so relevant and important,” Halle said.

20 thoughts on “Vigil for Black Lives Draws Hundreds to Watertown Square

  1. If Chief Lawn can approve of 500 protesters practicing questionable social distancing, why doesn’t he lend a voice to support a proper graduation ceremony for the 150 seniors in the proudly diverse student body of WHS?

    • Oh this comment, yet again. He didn’t approve the vigil. It wasn’t town or state sanctioned. He was present at it. If you want to organize an impromptu graduation for 150 graduates go ahead, I’m sure he will be there too.

      • This protest was NOT impromptu. It was well posted in advance on Facebook. The WPD monitors social media for such information and Chief Lawn knew about it. As reported, he showed up and endorsed this event in the middle of a health emergency. Obviously no problem with a gathering of this size. That being said, why not a proper graduation ceremony for our fine class of 2020?

        • Ok pardon me. Substitute “grassroots” or “community” for “impromptu” (though I think you know exactly what I meant). It was not government sanctioned, it was not permitted. It was a grassroots resident-planned vigil. Chief Lawn was not there in uniform and he stood in the back. No one is saying the class of 2020 isn’t fine – they are wonderful -and my own daughter isn’t getting her college graduation. Like I said, if people want to start a grassroots graduation ceremony (grassroots, announced on Facebook) they should. I’m sure many officers will be there and many of the rest of us Watertown residents would come in support with masks on too. But, this was not organized by the town or permitted by the government. There is an inherent, obvious difference. Be motivated by it and plan a grassroots event – we’ll all be there.

    • Fred, happily there WILL. be something for the Watertown students, announced 6/3 a a rolling rally and a Victory Field ceremony

  2. Thank you for this vigil! I really wanted to attend, but had to make the decision to stay home because of the pandemic, and the fear that there would be a large crowd. But, I knew it would be peaceful and safe and a great way to express our outrage. Re the angry man in the white car – did anyone get a license plate? I would be interested to know whether he truly IS from Watertown, or just an angry white man passing through… We women deal with those types all the time, and it’s not always about race… Those types of people are angry at the WORLD and entitled and treat everyone that way. I think it’s horrible he was yelling racial epithets.

  3. I was there, and thought people were quite careful about social distancing. The invitation for this event was extremely clear that everyone should come masked and maintain social distancing, and a leaflet about that was handed out by the organizers, who wore gloves to do so. Those who stood closer together tended to be in family groups, who are in the same “bubble” routinely. It WAS hard not to be able to go up to hug and chat with friends, but we avoided doing so. Everyone I saw wore masks, and there was a good lively breeze blowing. The combination of great care to remain masked with the six foot distances made transmission quite unlikely. Were there proposed graduation plans that involved a ceremony conducted outdoors, having every family stand at least six feet from any other family, and having all in attendance agree to come masked?

    • I am not sure what the other options were. A committee of students, parents, teachers and school officials discussed graduation. I know the students really wanted an in person grad. There was mention at some point of having omly 1 or 2 guests. I suspect the problem is the state’s limit of 10 people in a gathering. The Gov. mentioned that schools could wait til after July 18 and they may be able to have a regular graduation. The supt. said WHS students want to wait that long because some would not be able to make it.

  4. But there couldn’t be a parade or ANY service to honor the Veterans of this community who gave their lives so people can hold a protest /vigil!

    • Janice, if you want to hold a vigil for veterans, organize one. Also, donate to support veterans who are homeless and call your representatives to ask for more federal and state support for veterans. It could also help if we stop going to endless wars so that there are less veterans.

      • Yes. The vigil for Black Lives was organized by citizens, not the town.

        If you want a graduation, or a vigil for veterans, or a gathering in support of the police, or whatever, you should organize it, advertise it and have it happen.

        Why complain that it hasn’t happened – do something about it.

  5. There is a lot of police abuse and not just in major cities.

    Demonstrations, mostly by people who vote for Democrats, are happening in big cities and towns (and small ones like Watertown etc.) run by Democrats — such as Minneapolis, Boston, New York City, Los Angeles, and other.

    Why don’t the Democratic leaders there crack down on police abuse? What, they’re incapable of doing so? If not them, then who?

    I applaud the Watertown Citizens for Black Lives and Watertown Citizens for Peace, Justice and the Environment.

    But have they scoured the complaint files and emails of the Watertown Police Department and police chief for the last several years? I doubt it.

    Don’t you think you should start in your own hometown to eliminate police abuse?

    Have Watertown town OFFICIALS done a similar deep dive into police files?

    Let’s hear from you. All I hear is silence.

    Will the vigil participants please hold their feet to the fire?

    • Are you saying the township needs to investigate the Watertown PD for civil rights violations? Because if you go to them directly with evidence of those violations, I’m pretty sure they’ll do it. They take that sort of thing very seriously.

    • Clearly there needs to be a deeper search for any history of racism, violence, anger management issues, corruption, etc. in hiring of police anywhere in the country. Obviously police need to be able to respond with force in a violent situation, but traits like good judgement and restraint need to be part of what we seek in an officer of the law as well, as they must be able to accurately assess a situation and respond appropriately to the level of threat presented.

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