The march was largely peaceful with the exception of one man at UNO Park yelling and a neighborhood in Mohawk Forest that had no interest in hearing the protesters.
NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — The local Black Lives Matter group wants residents to know that they should not fear speaking up about hate speech and threats.
"We've got your back," said group leader Raymond Moore on Sunday afternoon as dozens of protesters marched through the downtown and two housing developments. "We're not scared. Tell us your story. Hate is not allowed no more in this town. ... If you respect me, I respect you. ... Black Lives Matter of North Adams is here to stay, we're not going nowhere. This is our community, let's take it back."
He said he's heard from people that their jobs or living situations have been threatened for supporting the movement or marching.
Moore's been involved with or led several marches and events in the city since the Black Lives Matter movement came to the fore after the killing of George Floyd in police custody in May. The decentralized nonprofit, grassroots organization was created in 2013 after the acquittal of Trayvon Martin's killer. The movement has spotlighted the use of police brutality, racism and the needs of the LGBTQ, disabled and undocumented communities, and sought to counter it with nonviolent protest.
It currently seeks to "defund" police by redirecting public safety funding toward addressing the societal ills that lead to crime, such as mental health and addiction, and investing in communities, particularly Black communities.
Marches had been planned the last two Sundays but this latest one called out Robert Moulton Jr. for remarks he made on a public access show. The former city councilor called BLM a terrorist organization and said he didn't understand systemic racism. The issue was further inflamed after an incident at Moore's home on Saturday night. He and neighbors heard what they believed was gunfire; police are still investigating.
"My job as an activist is to hold him responsible. We are not a terrorist group, we are a family," said Moore. "We're here to let them know bigotry and hate is not accepted in North County, it's not any longer."
At several stops, he explained he was marching for his children, for science, and to open people's eyes to racism and injustice. People with hate in their hearts needed to be brought into the light, he said.
The group had planned to protest at City Hall on Tuesday to call for the resignation of Moulton, but he stepped down from his seat on the council and the School Committee on Monday morning. He had already been forced to resign his presidency of the North Adams Ambulance Service because of the BLM remarks and for downplaying the COVID-19 pandemic as well.
The marches have had the support of city government and the North Adams Police Department. Sunday's march included Mayor Thomas Bernard, City Council President Paul Hopkins and Councilors Keith Bona, Marie T. Harpin and Benjamin Lamb.
"We want North Adams to be known as a place that is inclusive, that is a place that is diverse, that is a place that is welcoming and that a place that will respond to injustice with strong rebuke, that will respond to it with action, with activism, with peaceful protest," Bernard said on Sunday. "I want the city to be known that if people are injured, people are hurt, if people feel attacked, that they going to gather, they're going to say that it's not acceptable."
Moore was emphatic that march was not against police in general and thanked the North Adams officers there to protect the marchers. "We are not anti-cop," he said, turning it into a chant. "We are anti-bad cop."
He urged the marchers to not engage any counterprotesters — there had been rumblings of a rally to either support Moulton or against the BLM marchers on social media but it didn't materialize.
"Let the police do their job. They're good at it. That's what they're here for," Moore said. "I respect this town. I respect the mayor. I respect the council. So let them do their part. We have the right to speak, we have freedom of speech."
Several dozen marchers and a dozen cars set out from UNO Park about 3 p.m. with a police escort. They walked through the neighborhoods on the north side, then to Main Street in the 90-degree heat, then up steep East Main Street to Berkshire Landings and on to Mohawk Forest. By that point, at least half the marchers had peeled off.
Rema Loeb of Plainfield marched and then rode for a good portion. She's no stranger to protests, having been arrested at the age of 84 for disrupting the pipeline project at Otis State Forest a few years ago. Now she stands out every Friday in her little town and most recently went to the People's Climate Change March in New York City.
"I care about all this. I happen to personally have black grandchildren, and native grandchildren," she said. "So, this is a fight that I've seen for a long time. ...
"My husband and I were active when we lived in New York City many, many years ago, in the Civil Rights Movement."
When the Vietnam War came along, she and her husband took turns watching their children and protesting. "I'll do civil rights, you do peace," she joked her husband said.
While most of the march and stops to speak had been treated with horn tooting, waving and applause or just indifference, one section of Mohawk Forest greeted the rally with angry chants of "all lives matter" and yells to go away. Black Lives Matter is racist said one woman, holding an "enough is enough" sign. (The term "Black lives matter" is meant to reflect the reality that for hundreds of years, Black lives didn't seem to matter — or didn't matter as much as white lives.)
"We're not racist," one woman yelled. "Take it elsewhere."
The heated encounter, which led to some shoving, resulted in the arrival of more police who stepped between the groups. When Moore moved on to the next parking area, with people sitting outside, he asked if they were going to yell at him.
One woman raised her hand and said, "all lives matter." Moore nodded, "we know all lives matter. We just went through that."
Then they quietly listened to him.