Militant Journalism

Hundreds march in Erie, Pa. demanding justice for George Floyd

This past weekend saw an outpouring of solidarity the world over as dozens and dozens of cities and towns took to the streets to demand justice for Black people in the face of racist police violence following the police lynching of George Floyd on May 25. Among these cities was Erie, Pennsylvania, a Rust Belt city deemed by USA Today in 2017 to be the worst city in the United States to be a Black person. On May 30, Erie displayed the greatest protest action in its history as hundreds of residents marched against anti-Black police terror, occupying major intersections throughout its downtown area.

This action was met with little police presence until it returned to Perry Square, a commons at the heart of the city. Protesters took their demands directly to the Erie Police Department building with chants such as “No justice, no peace,” and “If we don’t get it, shut it down!” All the while, officers were seen on the roof preparing for confrontation. Following these preparations, at approximately 9:25 pm, tear gas was deployed against protesters in the EPD surface lot at Peach Street and South Park Row.

Then, almost entirely contained within the Perry Square commons, protesters were antagonized further with successive tear gas deployment as they dispersed away from the police station through the park. Many of the original protesters abandoned the action at this point to tend to their gas-irritated eyes, noses, and throats, or to assist others with first aid.

Liberation screen grab from video of police kicking Hannah Silbaugh.
Liberation screen grab from video of police kicking Hannah Silbaugh.

The Erie SWAT team then emerged from beneath the precinct and advanced on protesters in the park. Among them was 21-year-old Hannah Silbaugh who refused to move as she sat, alone, on State Street and continued chanting. Hannah was maced and, while covering her face, was kicked over by a police officer. Onlooking officers did nothing to restrain the assailant. This incident was recorded from multiple angles and has since become yet another viral showcase of excessive force employed by police.

In official statements responding to one particularly viral video, Erie Mayor Joe Schember had this to say: “There were people behind the woman who were doing damage to properties in downtown Erie, but the police can’t advance beyond until people move back and I’m not sure why people wouldn’t move back and I’m not sure why people wouldn’t move. It looked like the video might have been doctored. We are trying to figure out the answer to that for sure, but this is an instance that we will evaluate.” And in respect to the protest at large, EPD Chief Dan Spizarny regurgitated the trope that those wielding fireworks and water bottles “were professional rioters present from out-of-town,” although the seven protesters arrested reside in Erie.

From May 30 until June 3, Erie’s downtown was under a state of emergency, advertised virtually nowhere, and the EPD has declared that the offending officer’s name will not be released due to an ongoing internal investigation. Erie’s citizens refuse to stay silent in the face of the city’s dismissive attitude toward the assault and march, however, and demonstrations have been ongoing at the EPD precinct in Perry Square ever since. Requests for permits to march by Black clergymen have been denied by the city, but are scheduled to proceed nonetheless.

Various  local groups have been organizing to demand justice for Hannah Silbaugh. One organization, Erie County United, has fronted this call for justice with these demands of Mayor Schember, Chief Spizarny, and District Attorney Jack Daneri:

“We’re calling on you to:

-Ask for [the resignation of] the police officer who kicked Hannah Silbaugh

-Redirect future police department funding into tangible community resources

-And to spearhead the formation of an Independent Citizens’ Review Board for police conduct.”

Erie County United is bolstering these demands with an ongoing investigation of budgets of the City of Erie and the EPD in addition to further agitation and recruitment to the cause.

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