BLM rally in Chadds Ford

It was an emotional day for Chadds Ford's Rodney Gillespie. After almost a year since being pulled over by a state trooper for what Gillespie called "driving while black" heading back to his Atwater Road home, he coordinated a rally in Chadds Ford against racism and in support of Black Lives Matter.

He was motivated to have the rally after the killing of George Floyd in Minnesota last May. Derek Chauvin, a Minneapolis police officer, knelt on the neck of the prostrate and handcuffed Floyd for more than eight minutes while three other officers stood by and watched. But Floyd's killing was one of many wrongful deaths of people — usually people of color — at the hands of police.

Rodney Gillespie takes a knee.

"My wife Angela, my daughters Jasmine and Jaida, we too have been racially profiled. They told me, 'Rodney, do all the right things and you'll be just OK. Pull yourself up by your bootstraps.' So, I tried."

He spoke of getting his undergraduate degree at Drexel University in Philadelphia and then going to grad school in Seattle, Wash. He spoke of living in different states in the country and in other countries, London and South Africa.

"And upon returning from South Africa, I was put in handcuffs in my own driveway," he said.

Gillespie then read off a list of names, names of black men and women who were killed, often by police. That list of names included George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Elijah McCain. And after each name was read, the audience would repeat the name. All three were among the many wrongfully killed by police.

"We all tried to do it the right way. What is the right way? That's what we're trying to figure out, but racism is getting in the way. Racism is getting in the way of living the American dream."

An estimated 150 people, mostly white, gave a choral response in sequence with a group of younger black women, "What do we want?" "Justice." "When do we want it?" "Now." And "Black Lives…" "Matter."

They also sang the first verse of the Black National Anthem, "Lift Every Voice and Sing."

Matt Wrabley, of Chadds Ford, and two of his daughters show support. He said the action of the police officer who killed George Floyd could only be characterized as a lynching.

In addition to Gillespie, speakers included Anton Andrew, the Democratic Party candidate for the 160th District seat of the state House of Representatives, Chester County Sheriff Fredda Maddox, and Kyle Boyer, president of the West Chester Branch of the NAACP.

Andrew recalled his junior year at Penn, watching news coverage of the 1991 police beating of Rodney King in Los Angeles. Four officers kicked and beat King with their batons for 15 minutes and used Tasers on him as other officers stood around and watched.

"I remember so many people saying 'they are just a few bad apples. Nearly 30 years later, we all saw George Floyd murdered, and we hear the same tired refrain… When lives are at stake, we cannot afford to have a few bad apples," he said. "We need to fix policing now. We do that with better options, better data, better laws."

If elected, Andrew said he would introduce laws that would make it easier to prosecute police misconduct and eliminate unnecessary violent and lethal techniques, such as chokeholds. He later said qualified immunity — laws exempting public officials, including police from being sued for violating a person's civil rights — must go.

Maddox, who was elected sheriff last year after a career with the Pennsylvania State Police, said she too had been profiled.

Just a few of the many signs displayed during the rally.

"I was stopped, and I was profiled because someone like me lives in Birmingham Township…you don't see many like me. Sometimes, because of implicit bias, there was an assumption that I didn't belong."

Maddox continued that theme of implicit bias when she spoke about some of her deputies, both black and white, coming to her and saying things need to change and asked what can be done.

"I say it requires a dialogue. It requires people to begin to humanize the other person. It requires that we begin to become educated as officers about implicit biases that we all have. And for African-Americans, we're not saying we want more than, we're just saying we want equality," the sheriff said.

Boyer, who is also a minister, spoke with more of an edge.

In referencing the situation the Gillespie family faced last year, he said: "As we've heard, they are but one family that experienced what many have experienced over the last four centuries. So, you have to excuse some of us who feel a little bit of a sense of urgency. It's been a long time. Even before iOS video allowed the showing of the displaying of things, black and brown bodies have been abused, manipulated, tortured, and lynched for a very long time. Excuse some of us for not accepting the language of newness, or this is a sudden problem because it's not. The same Constitution that so many referenced said I'm only three-fifths of a person. Racism, systemically, is etched into the very fabric of our country," Boyer said.

Kyle Boyer, president of the West Chester Chapter of the NAACP calls for turning the moments into a movement.

He referenced the Rodney beating, the handcuffing of Gillespie on his own Atwater Road property, and the killing of George Floyd as specific moments in time but said, "The challenge for us is to respond to the moment and make it a movement. A failure to do that is a disservice to everybody that has died, and a dishonor to those who have been fighting for the last 400 years. We need a movement that will get into the history books."

While not being an official part of the rally, Kennett Township Supervisor Richard Leff said he attended because "We have to stand up for what's right. Policing has to be for the benefit of all."

After the rally, Chadds Ford's Matt Wrabley said he and two of his daughters were there because "The video of Floyd was overwhelming. Nothing can explain the cop's action other than a lynching."

Gillespie said at the end that the turnout was "Outstanding. It was a great response. The message was clear, and it was embraced by the community."

Gillespie's incident happened when a state trooper pulled him over and handcuffed him on his own property after, the trooper alleged Gillespie had crossed a double yellow line on Webb Road as Gillespie, his wife and one of his daughters were returning to their Atwater Road home.

He said he didn't stop immediately because it was dark and that Webb and Atwater roads are narrow and felt it unsafe to stop right away, so he drove to his property. A state police investigation cleared the trooper of any wrongdoing or any profiling.

 

1 Star2 Stars3 Stars4 Stars5 Stars (10 votes, average: 4.50 out of 5)
Loading...

About Rich Schwartzman

Rich Schwartzman has been reporting on events in the greater Chadds Ford area since September 2001 when he became the founding editor of The Chadds Ford Post. In April 2009 he became managing editor of ChaddsFordLive. He is also an award-winning photographer.

Comments

comments

Leave a Reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.