POTSDAM — What’s his name? George Floyd. What did he say? I can’t breathe.

For nearly three hours Monday evening in the village of Potsdam, about 800 people convened, chanting in protest of George Floyd’s May 25 killing and national police violence, all in support of the Black Lives Matter movement.

Mr. Floyd, who was black, died after Derek Chauvin, a white and now former Minneapolis police officer, knelt on his neck for eight minutes and 46 seconds during an apparent arrest, with two minutes and 53 seconds occurring after Mr. Floyd was unresponsive, according to the Minnesota District Court criminal complaint filed against Chauvin.

Chauvin, who was fired from the Minneapolis Police Department, was arrested Friday and charged with third-degree murder, carrying a maximum sentence of 25 years, and second-degree manslaughter, carrying a maximum sentence of 10 years and a $20,000 fine. Three other officers who stood by — Thomas Lane, J.A. Kueng and Tou Thao — have been fired.

Village protesters marched from the Potsdam Post Office, 21 Elm St., west toward Market Street, north through the commercial district, then east to Leroy street and back to Elm.

The march was ushered by a Potsdam Village Police patrol car at the front, and a Potsdam Volunteer Rescue van at the rear. Organizer Jennifer Baxtron said she reached out to village police officers last week, asking them to participate in the peaceful rally. About five officers were present, escorting the marchers and helping direct traffic.

“This is the most beautiful thing I’ve seen since I’ve lived in Potsdam,” Ms. Baxtron told the crowd gathered in front of the post office after returning from the 2-mile march.

Amid far-reaching protests in support of Black Lives Matter — nationwide and around the world, some involving looting of businesses and many marred by police-initiated force — Potsdam’s rally remained peaceful.

Ms. Baxtron, a black Potsdam resident who has lived in the village for the last seven or eight years, reminded community members on Facebook about an hour before the 6 p.m. march started: “Come in peace or don’t come at all.” She has organized racial justice rallies in Potsdam before, including one in August 2019, in the wake of the El Paso, Texas, shooting.

Potsdam peacefully protests Floyd killing

Hundreds of demonstrators in support of justice for George Floyd gather Monday in front of the post office on Elm Street in Potsdam. Christopher Lenney/Watertown Daily Times

Monday’s turnout, which surprised several marchers the Times spoke with, followed a similar rally held in front of the post office that drew about 100 people Sunday afternoon. Sunday’s event was organized by Potsdam Central High School student Olivia Ingram, who plans to rally in front of the post office again at noon this Sunday.

“And I’ll be right there with her,” Ms. Baxtron said as she marched toward Leroy Street.

Local black students spoke to the crowd after the march had concluded, including 12-year-old Adrianna Dupre, a seventh-grader at Ogdensburg Free Academy, who rallied in Potsdam with her uncle and other family members.

Miss Dupre, a victim of racist bullying all her life, said classmates mock her natural black hair and her black skin, calling her the n-word, “over and over and over again.”

“Do you hear her?” Mal Brewster, a local black student, asked the crowd. “Do you all see how sad it is that there’s a 12-year-old girl up here telling us stories about how she experiences racism?”

Ms. Brewster and several other speakers implored white Potsdam protesters to continue to show up — every day and in every way — in support of black people and the centuries-long fight for racial justice.

A north country resident for the last 16 years, John Youngblood, a SUNY Potsdam associate professor of English and communications, spoke, too.

“I’ve seen people dealing with all types of racism and hatred and disrespect and inequality and inequity,” Mr. Youngblood said. “And never have I ever imagined there would be a crowd like this to turn out. What you are demonstrating right now is something that is almost hard to believe in anymore, and that is the ability to touch people, to empathize with people, to relate with people to try and change a system that needs to change.”

In 2019, the U.S. Census Bureau estimated 85 percent of the village of Potsdam’s population of about 9,000 to be white, with 6.4 percent black and 1.9 percent mixed-race.

At around 8:30 p.m., Ms. Baxtron asked white protesters to separate from black protesters, directing remarks to the white people facing a few dozen black people beside her, urging white community members to support and protect black people in the north country. She then asked the white protesters to turn away from their fellow black citizens to face Elm Street, demonstrating a solidarity, a line of protection for the black community.

“Now you’re protecting us,” Ms. Baxtron said.

Addressing the few police officers standing by, speakers asked them to talk to their colleagues about racial injustice and about showing up: “We cannot lose any more lives to a broken system,” a protester cried.

“Remember,” Ms. Brewster said. “The blue lives? The badge is a choice. But my skin? That’s not a choice.”

Potsdam peacefully protests Floyd killing

Demonstrators take a knee Monday in front of the post office on Elm Street in Potsdam as the names of victims of police violence are read aloud. Christopher Lenney/Watertown Daily Times

On Sunday morning, the SUNY Potsdam University Police Facebook page reposted a Blue Lives Matter meme that read: “If you are anti-police, I’m blue family, unfriend me.”

By noon Sunday, the post had been deleted from the University Police Facebook page.

“The University Police department would like to apologize for a post that was mistakenly made this morning,” a post made at 12:10 p.m. reads. “It does not reflect the view of the department or the College. Please know that we have restricted posting abilities to prevent any future mistakes.”

The “mistake” prompted a response from SUNY Potsdam Chief of Police Tim Ashley, who posted on the University Police page at 7:10 p.m. Sunday, addressing “Campus Community Members.”

“The tragic death of George Floyd is not acceptable and reminds us as a police department that we must work to continue to earn your trust,” the post reads. “We took an oath to serve and protect all of our community members regardless of race, religion, or background.”

Mr. Ashley added that the “situation will be thoroughly investigated,” with assistance from SUNY Potsdam’s Office of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion and Human Resources.

Potsdam Mayor Ron Tischler joined protesters in front of the post office Monday, describing the death of Mr. Floyd as a “huge injustice.”

“Those officers hopefully will be prosecuted,” Mr. Tischler said of the four Minneapolis officers involved in George Floyd’s death, adding that he has seen “nothing like” the turnout at Monday’s rally in the village over his two decades in public office in the area. “It’s just tremendous.”

To the north in Massena, a Black Lives Matter rally was held Monday afternoon, and to the south, Watertown protesters gathered peacefully over the weekend.

For Potsdam resident Rivka Rocchio, a SUNY Potsdam assistant professor of theater and dance, marching for the Black Lives Matter movement is about continued activation in and mobilization of efforts to address indoctrinated racism.

Potsdam continuing daily Black Lives Matter rallies

A makeshift memorial to George Floyd is built Monday evening at the conclusion of a candlelight vigil and rally in support of justice for George Floyd in front of the Potsdam Post Office on Elm Street. Christopher Lenney/Watertown Daily Times

“This is just the beginning,” she said.

Just before participating in Monday’s march, her 4-year-old black son asked: “So everyone’s going to be nice to me, right? Even though I’m black?”

“I’ve been talking to him since he was born, talking about how he lives in a different world than his white friends,” she said. “I hope, in the future, he can live in a world where he can step outside and not expect a death sentence.”

Johnson Newspapers 7.1

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(16) comments

Holmes

Hmmm, you can have a BLM protest but you can’t have a high school graduation or a graduation party for your graduate. Who would have predicted that?

rockloper

Boo hoo, boo hoo

rockloper

"Our country is totally fractured and, with our weak leadership in Washington, you can expect Ferguson type riots and looting in other places" - donald j. tRUMP

Holmes

Step out of the spin cycle, it’s making you dizzy. Thank the blue state governors and mayors, not only can they not take care of the people’s health, they can’t provide for their safety...

rockloper

tRUMP predicted his own weak leadership

WoodCook

Holmes and rockloper, you two are two ends of the same stick...just being divisive and trying to rile folks up. The truth usually lies somewhere in between these black-and-white (or red/blue) views.

I prefer to find the common ground that we can all agree on, that our govt is not serving ANY of us well - not during President Obama, not during President Trump...we need to do something about what happens NEXT to make this country livable for most Americans again, whose jobs had disappeared long before Covid, whose earning power has been gutted by higher productivity and lower real wages and benefits...that's not a Dem or Rep thing, it's both parties colluding to take the highest bid from corporate donors, at our expense.

Instead of trying to shame others with blame, maybe we should all join forces and demand true Public Campaign Finance Reform (PCFR) - no special $, citizen donations only and limited amounts, "free" ads with specifically equal time to make their point, a limited campaign season, abolish ALL lobbyists and means of influence, make all bills written be one-topic only and no pork what-so-ever. And so on.

It won't solve all of our problems but it will go a huge long way towards it. Look, I'm independent so vote for both, whoever is best, but we all surely know in our hearts the "red" state governors aren't doing better than "blue" state - they just have less urban centers and more rural, where it's safer like it is here in the North Country compared to NYC.

So, guys, can we take it down a notch and maybe look to the common good? We are all neighbors, literally, and I think in the end do care for each other's well-being? Let's work to change what ails us - we are being dupes in a game that assures we *lose* by constantly blaming each other - it pretty much assures the status quo goes on and on, at our disadvantage. Maybe, let's write to our reps about PCFR, and put that energy to good use. Every time we feel like being snarky online, send a message to a govt official demanding PCFR instead.

rockloper

So? No, actually I won't take it down a notch. Those days are long gone. And for those suggestions you made? Been there, done that, still doing some of it. Any other requests?

Dabney Carr

This is not about Trump.

This is not about George Floyd.

All lives matter.

hermit thrush

all lives do matter. and when our society fails to live up to that ideal, something must be done about it.

rockloper

If your response is "all lives matter" then you don't understand the BLM movement. Regarding tRUMP, I love pointing out what a con man he is and how his followers are nothing but ignorant puppets.

Dabney Carr

If you understand the BLM movement, then where is your outrage over the hundreds of deaths of young black men by other young black men in Chicago??

Dabney Carr

Instead you chose to insult millions of people for simply disagreeing with you and supporting president Trump.

WoodCook

Hi rockloper, see my reply to Holmes here, it is for you too. Be well.

WoodCook

Dabney, unless Black lives actually *do* matter (and we're being presented with evidence that that do not always matter), then *all* lives do not...

Of course, all lives do matter, but it's not White people in danger here...a good analogy is that "All houses matter" which is true. But not all houses are On Fire right now, so maybe the one that is on fire needs a little attention paid...some remedial action.

To your later point about Black-on-Black violence in Chicago, the Bureau of Justice Statistics at President Trump's own Dept. of Justice reports:

** Poor urban whites have a higher rate of violence toward each other at a rate of 56.4 per 1,000 compared to poor urban Blacks at a rate of 51.3 per 1,000. **

When you are poor and have no prospects, no matter what color you are, you turn on your own because they are the closest at hand. I grew up poor and urban, I saw it, I didn't need to trot out those facts to know them, but I am doing my due diligence before I comment. (Hint.)

I hope and pray you don't mean to *sound* racist,  and think these are just *facts*, that black people kill each other - because they are facts, it does happen, but it's not just because they are Black people, it's because those particular folks are *poor people*.  That's what happens in crowded urban environments when people of *any* color are desperate.

rockloper

[thumbup] You have a well thought out post but unfortunately Dabney is one of those people with a "Don't Read To Me" flag in his front yard.

rockloper

I'll give you the same answer but THIS time I'll type it slower cause from your last 2 posts you STILL don't get it. If you response is "all lives matter" then you don't understand the BLM movement. Pay attention and educate yourself.

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