Poughkeepsie community protests police brutality, honors George Floyd

Courtesy of @community2matters via Instagram

Poughkeepsie and other Mid-Hudson area residents have joined in protests against police violence and racism taking place across the country, a movement most recently ignited by the murder of George Floyd, an unarmed Black man killed by officers of the Minneapolis Police Department. On Sunday, May 31, around 200 Poughkeepsie community members rallied on the steps of the Mansion Street post office while chanting “I can’t breathe,” words Floyd repeated multiple times as Minneapolis officers knelt on his throat, and “Black lives matter.” The group then took the protests across the city, marching past the police department, south toward Main Street, and finally returning to Mansion Square Park. 

That evening, over 250 Poughkeepsie community members gathered on the sidewalks on Mill Street to honor George Floyd in a candlelight vigil and silent prayer organized by Changepoint Church in collaboration with Community Matters 2. Many attendees brought candles and wore masks, and some held signs expressing support of the Black Lives Matter movement. 

Police were present at both events. At the rally, police originally told marchers to stay off of the street and on the sidewalks, then used their cars to block intersection traffic for the stated purpose of ensuring protesters’ safety. Poughkeepsie Police Chief Tom Pape came to Mansion Square park to talk to protesters. According to MidHudson News, some participants shouted questions at Pape at once, after a few minutes of which he left the group to speak with other attendees. “I came here to give everyone a chance to interact with me as police chief, and a few people made it difficult for the many that embraced the idea,” said Pape. Poughkeepsie Mayor Rob Rolison also attended the rally, and described it as a conversation instead of a protest. In a statement released on Facebook, he said, “Our police officers take an oath to uphold the law, and these gross violations break the bonds of trust between law enforcement and the public—bonds that are essential to all communities. Here in the City of Poughkeepsie, our police officers are committed to strengthening community relationships and endeavor on those efforts every day.” Rolison is a retired detective from the Town of Poughkeepsie Police Department. In his 2020 budgetary plan, he increased the salaries of current police officers and shared a plan to add up to five officers to the force every year. In 2019, he reinstated police foot patrols to address “quality-of-life concerns.” Police cars paused traffic for the vigil later that night.

Although the recent actions have been in response to the police killings of Black people in Minneapolis and elsewhere, there is a pervasive history of police brutality against Black people in Hudson Valley communities as well, including Poughkeepsie. According to a 2019 release from Pape, 83 percent of new hires for the Poughkeepsie police force were white, compared to the 40 percent of Poughkeepsie residents who are white. In 2018, in the face of tenuous community relations, the Poughkeepsie police Department partnered with Marist College’s Center for Social Justice Research to improve community relations. Last spring, Poughkeepsie Police Department officers arrested two teenage girls, Jamelia Barnett and Julissa Dawkins, who were present when a fight broke out at Poughkeepsie Middle School, without reading Dawkins her charge nor Miranda rights. An officer later identified as Kevin VanWagner threw Dawkins to the ground when arresting her, and Dawkins was later charged with resisting arrest. Barnett ran to her sister’s aid, only to be thrown to the ground and thus knocked unconscious by another officer. The case against the girls is ongoing. Vassar specifically has a history of racial profiling by its own security officers, and police profiling has taken place on campus. The existence of similar incidents across the country has bolstered mass political movement from coast to coast. 

Following this weekend’s series of gatherings, the WE CAN’T BREATHE PROTEST will take place tomorrow, June 2, at 4 p.m. at the Harriet Tubman Park. Protesters will march across the Mid-Hudson bridge to call for the end of violence against Black people in their city and across the country.

7 Comments

  1. Great idea. Make sure you interfere with essential employee commutes. Not like we aren’t working 12 hour days or anything. Ya know, helping people like you who aren’t social distancing.

    • It is how non-violent change is made. In convenience, even suffering spread by non violent civil disobedience generates creative tension. Even righteous and necessary struggle makes people uncomfortable but enough if that kind of struggle can make war and violence, literally fighting for justice unnecesary. My sone is a front line health care worker, an EMT and he is in Oakland Calif. volunteering to treat the eyes of folks being pepper sprayed at the demonstrations. I am REALLY proud of him.

    • Exactly, I have a route to run where i have to cross the river and now I have to go way out of my way to rhinebeck-kingston for my own safety and to make sure company property doesn’t get damaged

    • Ah. From one essential worker to another, so sorry your commute was lengthened due to a civil rights protest. So sorry you were too lazy to keep up on what’s going on in your own city. The protest was planned. Check your local news and plan ahead next time. Nobody is trying to get in the way of you going to work. By the way, there’s a protest at 4 today. Might want to leave a half hour early. Big signs everywhere but you might miss those.

  2. Former HVC resident now living in NYC. Now I’m white so this issue is not about me, but it’s a cause I’ve become passionate about since working in the black community for the past 16 years. Coming home was hard because I felt the people I grew up with were disconnected from the racial issues I saw daily. Since HVC by comparison is very safe and the relationship with law enforcement stronger, they did not understand my despair or concern for the racial tensions and abuse of authority I saw black people suffer at the hands of police.

    Seeing this news article give me hope that perhaps awareness can be brought to the community where I once lived. Regular people NEED to be uncomfortable, and NEED to be inconvenienced so they pay attention. If you are still rolling your eyes at me reflect on this question: Would your rather deal with the daily “inconvenience” of being black? Would you prefer their struggle to the struggle of commuting? If the answer is “no” then check yourself. Black people have been marginalized for far too long and it’s been far too easy for white people of the HVC to ignore what’s been happening to them.

    To everyone participating in the BLM in HVC, thank you. I appreciate you. Change is happening and better days are on the horizon.

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