Estimated 800 Fill Courthouse Lawn
By JIM KEVLIN • Special to www.AllOTSEGO.com
COOPERSTOWN – Ten years after he was chased by an armed classmate from Cooperstown Park on a sunny Good Friday and shot, Wesley Lippitt recounted the events this afternoon on the lawn of the Otsego County Courthouse:
“Racism is here,” he testified to an almost completely white crowd that organizers estimated at about 800 people, gathered to rally for justice after George Floyd’s death on being taking into police custody May 25 in Minneapolis. “It’s a thing. It is time for all of us to open our eyes.”
Lippitt, then 16, was wounded when Anthony Pacherille, 15, later imprisoned for eight years, cornered him in the police station in the basement of Village Hall and fired.
Now 26 in living in Fly Creek, Lippitt told the crowd, which included friends and many people he’s known for years, “We need your voices.”
His remarks were a punctuation mark on two and a half hours of rhetoric and high drama, the third such local rally after ones in Oneonta and Delhi:
Emcee MARIA NOTO, a 2017 CCS graduate (and the best pitcher in Class C play statewide), set the tone: “Police brutality is rooted in white supremacy. This needs to change.”
BRYCE WOODEN of Oneonta told the chilling story. “My mother” – a school teacher – “heard that knock – bang, bang – at 2 a.m. one morning in 2000, and opened the door to a gun. For 30 minutes, they” – she and her husband, a state juvenile corrections officer – “were questioned at gunpoint. They thought we were drug dealers.”
Showing their official IDs allayed officers’ suspicions, but what if they had no IDs? The parent woke their 7-year-old son, told him what happened, and emphasized the danger he was in for just being black.
SHANNON McHUGH, chairman, Oneonta Community Relations & Human Rights Commission, urged attendees to be “a second pair of eyes,” to stop and observe when police officers have pulled someone over. She and her husband were pulled over, she recounted, and 10 cruisers showed up to conduct a search of their car, only to find nothing.
Her 10-year-old daughter has absorbed fearful lessons. “She wants to know why people who look like her mother are killing people like her dad,” said McHugh.
LEE FISHER, president, NAACP, Oneonta chapter, declared, “When George Floyd was on and ground and he asked to breath – air is free – he asked for the freedom to breath. I believe that God said, ‘George, your last breath is going to be for America’.”
What happened to Floyd was more than a single incident – it reflects the inability to earn a living wage, to get affordable housing or a good education, Fisher said. “People have to realize what’s going on is systemic,” he said. “It’s the system.”
The Rev. LaDANA CLARK, founder of ChurchNtheHood who has preached at the Cooperstown Presbyterian Church, recounted an episode that began when she said hi to officers on exiting the Oneonta Walmart. In the end, “for the first time in my life, an officer put cuffs on me in Laurens, N.Y. I’m 58 years old. I was disgusted.”
DIANDRA SANGETTI-DANIELS and C.S. BROWN also spoke, detailing complaints with Oneonta police and pointing out that all Civil Rights causes should be similarly allied against oppression.
While Rev. LaDana was speaking, a young man, Austin Partridge of Milford, stationed himself next to the courthouse steps and unfurled an American flag.
The organizers approached him and asked him to move away, then – when press began to take photos – they formed a cordon around him to block the cameras. He was eventually convinced to go away.
“Listening to Rev. LaDana,” Partridge explained later, “it really resonated with me. I had the flag in my back pack. I wasn’t sure I was going to do anything. I felt what she was saying represented American values, that we are all created by God.”
Once he unfurled the flag, “a lot of people were very upset about that. I understand where they were coming from, although I disagree with them. They wanted me to leave. I was chanting no slogans, I was merely hold the American flag.”
Before he left, he sought out Rev. LaDana: “I told her it was an amazing speech.”
The crowd, while difficult to estimate, spread from the purple lilac bush to the west to beyond the Soldiers & Sailor Monument to the east, and filled the space between the courthouse steps and Main Street.
As Mayor Ellen Tillapaugh Kuch had indicated, no police were present, although there was a patrol car on alert at the Cooperative Extension parking lot on Lake Street.
All ages were represented, from babies to nonagenerians, and included many protesters from Oneonta and Delhi and around Otsego County, and the Betts family from Sprakers, Montgomery County.
Among those rallying was Mary Anne Whelan, the retired Bassett physician, who said she realized she has participate in a protest rally every decade since the 1960s.
Hilda Wilcox of Cooperstown did her one better: Her first protest was in 1946; a student at Antioch College, she participated in an effort to desegregate a lunch counter in Dayton, Ohio. It failed, she said.
But it eventually succeeded – everywhere.