Protest Begins and Ends Peacefully in East Liverpool

EAST LIVERPOOL, Ohio — If you’re going to launch a protest, “this is the way to do it,” commented city police Chief John Lane, referring to a rally hosted Saturday afternoon in front of City Hall by the local group River Valley- Voices in Action.

About 100 people gathered for the rally, with Sixth Street in front of City Hall blocked off by city workers in anticipation of the event, scheduled in honor of George Floyd, a black man who died May 25 during an incident with Minneapolis police officers.

The news of the incident sparked riots in Minneapolis, with looting and burning taking place. Other demonstrations were held in cities across the U.S. during the week. In Columbus Friday, police officers faced crowds of protesters in the street, at times using tear gas to force them back onto the sidewalks.

This left Lane and his officers uncertain what might lie ahead during Saturday’s rally, but, while it became loud at times with shouts of “I can’t breathe,” “Say his name: George Floyd,” “Black lives matter,” and “Don’t trust the police,” there were no incidents of violence.

Protesters held various signs as they encouraged those present to remember the legacy of not only Floyd but others listed as victims of police brutality over the years.

Some spoke about their own experiences, saying they had been targeted by police officers due to their color. Some spoke of their fears of being targeted. Others spoke specifically about Floyd’s death, with one speaker saying he wanted to go to Minneapolis when he heard about it, but his daughter stopped him, saying, “They’ll kill you, too.”

At one point the crowd demanded that Lane speak and he commended the group for the way it was handling the rally, saying, “This is exactly how you do it. We haven’t had any violence any crazy stuff going on. This is exactly how we make change.”

One of the issues brought up to Lane was the continuing paid administrative leave of Patrolman Shawn Long, with the chief saying it is under investigation and that takes time to make sure nothing is missed.

At one point, after Lane said, “all lives matter,” the group pressed him into stating, “black lives do matter,” which he did, adding, “What was done there in Minnesota was wrong. That guy was arrested and is going to be charged; the system worked. When the system fails, that’s when you start your protests.”

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In a video of the incident, fired Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin is seen kneeling on Floyd’s neck while he is handcuffed. Floyd complained, “I can’t breathe” both before he went to the ground and while on the ground, according to the official report.

In a statement of probable cause that included the autopsy report, it was noted preliminary findings revealed no physical findings that support a diagnosis of traumatic asphyxia or strangulation, but noted Floyd had underlying health conditions, including coronary artery disease and hypertensive heart disease.

“The combined effects of Mr. Floyd being restrained by the police, his underlying health conditions and any potential intoxicants in his system likely contributed to his death,” the report concluded, adding the medical examiner’s full report is still pending.

Four officers responded to the incident and, thus far, Chauvin has been charged with third-degree murder and manslaughter.

While standing and watching the protesters on Saturday, Lane was approached by a woman who said she had come from work to attend, but after she arrived and listened, she wanted to apologize to him and his police officers.

The woman said she and her husband, who is black, and their children, who are bi-racial, support the city police department and, with emotion, she said she was sorry for the things being said about police officers.

She left without being identified, but Lane later shared a video she posted identifying her as Elaine Gardner, in which she made an emotional plea for unity.

Nearly the entire city police force was on duty Saturday, with some patrolling city streets and others standing at each end of Sixth Street, only moving toward the group of protesters when Lane was in their midst on the steps and voices became raised.

One officer was on the roof of City Hall, keeping tabs on the whereabouts of everyone in attendance.

A city officer said St. Clair Township Police Department also had officers on standby in the event they were needed, but that never became necessary.
A small contingent of the group broke away and walked to Devon’s Diamond where Mayor Greg Bricker was helping with a community cleanup that had been planned for the day. They returned to announce the mayor had declined when asked to address the rally.

Mahoning Valley Sojourn to the Past has organized a March for Justice at 11:30 a.m. Sunday on the courthouse steps at the corner of Wick Avenue and Wood Street downtown Youngstown.

Another rally is schedule in Youngstown 4 p.m. Sunday in the parking lot behind VXI Global Solutions on the corner of Commerce Street and Wick Avenue. Participants are encouraged to wear facial coverings, maintain social distancing and be prepared to march peacefully, according to a graphic posted on the Mutual Aid Youngstown Facebook group.

Pictured at top: Some 100 protesters gathered in front of City Hall in East Liverpool Saturday to protest the killing of George Floyd on May 25.

Copyright 2020 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.