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Marchers deliver ‘a disturbance to the silence’

They spoke passionately — of their fears and their aspirations.

They chanted, over and over again, and with urgency, that black lives matter.

They remembered the fallen — the black men and women. George Floyd of Minneapolis was just the latest black man who died at the hands of police, or in Floyd’s case, a knee to his neck.

As the more than 200 people marched downtown from the Suffolk Cultural Arts Center down West Finney Avenue, taking a right at Pine Street and then another to Prentis Street, and yet another where they stopped traffic on Main Street, they returned to where they started.

It’s cliché to say that their message was loud and clear, but it was.

Black. Lives. Matter.

Hundreds of time, with no evidence of weakening in their voices.

Black. Lives. Matter.

Hundreds of times, they said those words as Suffolk Police watched at various points along the march route, while others in their cars along Main Street honked their horns in solidarity.

They also had other messages to deliver.

“I can’t breathe.”

Words George Floyd said before he died. And they said his name, and that of many other black men and women who have died.

Christian Edwards shouted those names as he marched, doing what he could, and the rest of the marchers could, to raise awareness for the black men and women who have died. The 18-year-old Edwards, graduating this year from King’s Fork High School, put the march together with a handful of other teens.

“This is just to cause a disturbance to the silence,” Edwards said, “and raise a little bit of awareness in our community at the moment.”

Edwards said Floyd’s death was a tipping point for him to act.

“There is a lot of bad media going out about how dangerous riots are, and about how bad protesting is at the moment,” Edwards said, “but I want to push the narrative that this is very important for us to get out and to make our voices be heard, and that is why we are pushing peace during this protest the entire time, so that we can have more positive media going out to the world.”

No justice, no peace.

More messages the marchers wanted to deliver.

Kelsey Walker, 42, said she had to seek justice for her son, who was stopped four times in one evening by police. She was told by police that her son was stopped, but never cited, because there was a rash of break-ins in a nearby neighborhood. She said interactions with police have not changed for the better for her.

“They have to understand on the other end that we are afraid of the police,” Walker said. “So when you come to us, we’re already in a hostile mood. We don’t know whether to put our hands up or put our hands down, whether to roll the window down or roll the window up.”

Some who spoke to the crowd shed tears relating their experiences, while others fiercely lamented how they are profiled for being a black man or woman.

One man speaking at the fountain outside the arts center said he’s afraid to ask for the prayers he wants his church to give. He said he watched protests over the weekend and wept. Among his prayers, he said, were for the inequality that continues to take place, for cops with a badge “to legally kill me for no reason,” for people who turn a blind eye to racism and think there’s nothing wrong with America.

“I had nothing to do on Saturday besides look at everything that’s going on around this country, and all that it left me to was cry,” the man said, pleadingly. “Why?  Because I’m afraid of being a black man in America.

“No, I’m not afraid of you individually. My mama raised me better than that. I’m afraid of the privilege that comes with how some of you look compared to me. I’m afraid whose side the police officer is going to take before he even realizes what’s going on. Not only can’t I breathe, I can’t have an opinion if it don’t match yours.”

As marchers went around the arts center for a second time, one Suffolk Police officer could be heard telling marchers, “you did a great job.” A couple of other city police officers could be seen applauding marchers.

“I just hope the police understand that when they approach these young black men,” Walker said, “they’re not threatened. They’re scared.”