By LIBBY CUDMORE • Special to www.AllOTSEGO.com
ONEONTA – When Sadie Starr Lincoln first created the invite for the Black Lives Matter rally in Muller Plaza on Sunday, May 31, she thought it might be she and some friends speaking out against police brutality.
“By Saturday, 100 people said they were going. By Sunday morning, 350 said they were going,” said Lincoln, who organized the rally after a black man, George Floyd, in Minneapolis, died while an officer knelt on his neck for nine minutes during a May 25 arrest.
The turnout was even higher, filling the plaza and the sidewalk across the street with an estimated 500 peaceful protesters. “People just kept coming,” she said. “I was in shock.”
The Laurens Central School senior has been active in several protests since 2016, when she joined activists at Standing Rock protesting the Dakota Access Pipeline.
“My family is of the Narragansett tribe in Rhode Island, and when I heard about the protests at Standing Rock, I wrote a song and put it on Facebook,” she said. “My father decided we should drive out there, so we spent a week with the protestors. I helped build a school, but it got plowed over.”
She also participated in the 2016 Women’s March in Oneonta, and the Climate Change Rally in Albany, and helped rally local support for the protest of Trump’s visit to Utica in 2018.
Her first priority for this rally, she said, was peace. “We made sure ‘Peaceful’ was the first word on all our flyers,” she said. “We wanted to make sure no one showed up with ill intentions.”
Though police pepper-sprayed, tear-gassed and shot live and rubber rounds into crowds at protests across the country, Oneonta Police Chief Doug Brenner declined to even send a police presence to the event.
“We felt it would be better to let demonstrators voice their opinion without distraction,” he said. “There was no damage, no injuries, and they left the plaza cleaner than they found it. It was a good example of the people of Oneonta. They care – they’re not looking to cause problems.”
He agreed with what the protesters stood for. “There is no excuse for what happened in Minneapolis,” he said. “There was no excuse for that officer to be holding him down like that, and no excuse for the officers who watched him do it.”
Nonetheless, protesters at the event did describe racially motivated run-ins with city police. Johnson Brown, a SUNY Oneonta student, told of man threatening to lynch him outside the Clinton Plaza hookah bar.
“We called the police,” said Brown. “And they escorted him home and yelled at me and my friends! When people are threatening us, you cannot tell us we cannot be mad.”
Rev. LaDana Clark also spoke: “As a former police officer, I do not hate the police, but right is right and wrong is wrong. There can be no peace as long as an officer can place his knee on the neck of a black man and take his life before our eyes!”
Brenner has reached out to Lee Fisher, president of the NAACP’s Oneonta chapter, to discuss how the OPD might assist the community. The chief is also looking into additional training for his officers.
Oneonta NAACP Vice President Michelle Osterhaudt, the former Common Council member, handed out membership forms at the rally, and said she’s had several emails and calls about where to send donations.
Following the rally, Lincoln said that she is in conversation with Rev. LaDana Clark and Wesley Lippitt, who was shot by another Cooperstown Central student in what some believe was a racially motivated attack on Good Friday in 2010.
A second rally is planned at 1 p.m. Sunday, June 7 in front of the Otsego County Courthouse in Cooperstown.
“We want to start a youth group for people of color and the people who support them,” she said. “When you speak out for the voiceless, you have so much power.”