Help us fund local COVID-19 reporting in our community

Sponsored by:

Despite COVID risks, thousands across new hampshire protest killing of George Floyd

  • Ronelle Tshiela addresses attendees of the May 30, 2020 Black Lives Matter rally in Manchester. Photo by Stacy Harrison—

Granite State News Collaborative
Published: 6/5/2020 11:18:55 AM
Modified: 6/5/2020 11:18:44 AM

The risk of transmitting and catching the novel coronavirus has shuttered schools, emptied businesses and kept the public socially distant for months. And yet, for more than seven days, thousands of people have been showing up in New Hampshire and across the country to protest racism and the police killing of George Floyd, a Black man who died under the knee of a Minneapolis police officer last week.

Organizers are taking the health risk into account and encouraging attendees to stay safe, but balancing protests - which have produced large crowds - with social distancing practices has been a challenge at some events.

On Monday, over 1,000 people showed up to a candlelight vigil for George Floyd and others at Henry Law Park in Dover. The protest was organized by the Dover High School student-run group Project DREAM. Palmira Wilson, one of the student organizers, said the group was handing out masks to those who didn’t have one, but most people had already showed up wearing a face covering.

“I made sure to announce at the beginning that we were providing masks, and I told people to spread out,” Wilson said.

The high attendance at the event made social distancing difficult, however.

“There were so many people that they couldn’t even spread out. The park was full, back to front,” Wilson said.

Attendees were also encouraged to wear masks at Manchester’s protest on Saturday.

“People were honestly, even while we were marching, pretty socially distant, and pretty much stayed in the clusters that they came in. But obviously being socially distant isn’t going to be perfect during a protest,” said Erika Perez, an organizer of Black Lives Matter in Manchester.

Health experts in New Hampshire have already been expecting a second wave of infections as a result of the state’s partial reopening. Adding large group protests to the mix could put attendees at higher risk of infection.

National experts have said yelling and chanting, as well as coughing after inhaling tear gas or sneezing to expel pepper spray, will exacerbate the spread of the virus.

“Unfortunately, the whole nature of protesting is a group endeavor, so all of the requirements for social distancing are not typically followed,” said Alexandra Howell, a professor of medicine, microbiology and immunology at Dartmouth.

“I think that if they wore masks that would be preferable, but it’s difficult to understand speech when one is wearing a mask, so I think that the whole nature of demonstrations just puts people who demonstrate at greater risk of transmission and catching COVID,” Howell added.

On Sunday, a group of disease experts from the University of Washington published an open letter acknowledging the risk of spread at these events, but supporting the effort and identifying racism as a public health threat. It has been signed by nearly 1,300 health professionals and community stakeholders across the country.

“Protests against systemic racism, which fosters the disproportionate burden of COVID-19 on Black communities and also perpetuates police violence, must be supported,” the letter reads.

Keirsten Balukas, who has high blood pressure and is therefore at higher risk of stroke if she contracts COVID-19, attended the candlelight vigil in Dover on Monday. She said showing up was worth the risk.

“These are our brothers and sisters being killed senselessly and at a higher rate than others of different skin colors. I wanted to show up for them, and for my community,” Balukas said. “It’s scary to be at risk, but it’s scarier to know that the people we hire to protect us are doing the opposite.”

Some organizers have been getting creative when it comes to keeping protesters safe. A car procession is planned for protesters who feel unsafe marching in a large crowd but still want to attend a march from Traip Academy in Kittery, Maine to Market Square in Portsmouth on Saturday June 6.

“The car procession will leave from Traip either in front of or following the actual marchers, and will follow us into downtown Portsmouth with signs and general enthusiasm,” said Abi Wool, an organizer of the Kittery event. “We want as many people as possible to feel comfortable supporting and participating.”

A “socially distant” protest is also planned for Durham on Sunday, June 7. Organizers are encouraging attendees to wear masks and asking donors to provide masks to those who show up without one.

Perez says there are ways people can still be supportive of the protests, even if they can’t be there in person.

“Only people that are in good health and don’t think they’re at risk should be coming to our events,” Perez said. “For our last protest, people who didn’t feel comfortable actually going to the march drove around in their cars and honked as a way to support, or they parked along our route and they had signs.”

Adds Wilson, “You don’t necessarily have to come outside. You can put posters in your car, posters in your windows. You have a platform. Social media is always a platform.”

 

These articles are being shared by partners in The Granite State News Collaborative. For more information visit collaborativenh.org.


Jobs



Support Local Journalism

Subscribe to the Monadnock Ledger-Transcript, your source for Peterborough area news.


Monadnock Ledger-Transcript

20 Grove St.
Peterborough, NH 03458
603-924-7172

 

© 2019 Monadnock Ledger-Transcript
Terms & Conditions - Privacy Policy