JAMESTOWN – There were two rallies that took place in Jamestown on Sunday as part of the series of national protests taking place across the country. The days of protests were triggered by the death of George Floyd, a black man who died when a white Minneapolis police officer knelt on his neck for several minutes.
Nearly 200 people were at Dow Park at noon to express solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement and to also share concerns about how law enforcement deals with minorities in the community. Leading the rally at noon was Rev. Chloe Smith from God and Zion Tabernacle Church, who urged the community to come together and work with public officials to improve the relationship between police and its residents.
“We are demanding a change starts in our city and we are going to be proactive. We are not going wait until something bad happens. We want the change now,” Smith said, speaking to those in attendance. “We’re not going to be reactive, having the protests after something happens. We want the communication with our law enforcement now! We want to conduct with our law enforcement now!”
Other members of the faith community, including Pastor Roy Ferguson of the Busti Church of God, were also on hand to share support.
“All of us who are not a person of color, whether we want to believe it or not, we have privilege. We need to leverage that privilege to love our neighbor as ourselves, and everyone including persons of color are our neighbors. We need to leverage that privilege. We didn’t ask for it but we were born with it and we need to use it to bless those who God has created equal in his sight,” Ferguson told the crowd.
Jamestown Mayor Eddie Sundquist, Police Chief Harry Snellings and Chautauqua County Sheriff Jim Quattrone all attended the rally, along with some members of the Jamestown City Council. Sundquist, the chief and the sheriff also spent nearly 45 minutes talking to attendees to respond to their questions and concerns.
Sundquist said he felt it was important to be at the event and show support with those who were attending.
“As communities across the country start to protest and start to demand more things, we wanted to let our entire community know that myself and our entire police force are hear to listen actively and to start to make changes to be more inclusive here in the city,” Sundquist said.
Some of those concerns focused on hiring more minority officers in the Jamestown Police Department, along with working to ensure officers who work for the city also live within the city. Others also expressed frustration over feeling like they are being specifically targeted by law enforcement for no other reason than the color of their skin.
When asked how man officers live in Jamestown, Snellings said 25 of of the 62 members of the Jamestown Police Department are residents of Jamestown.
“So 25 out of the 60 officers actually live in the city? That is not community policing. We need community policing. If [an officer] does not live in Jamestown, you are coming in and you are enforcing a law. You are not part of the community. You are an occupying force,” stated Justin Hubbard, a city resident who was in attendance. “I will not be occupied any more. How are you going to fix that?”
Afterward, Mayor Sundquist said the city will be continuing to meet and talk with the community and work toward addressing some of the concerns brought up at the rally, including having more officers who reside within the city.
“It’s very difficult unless its negotiated [into a collective bargaining agreement] or certain local laws are passed. But we’re trying very hard to encourage our residents to apply for those positions and to be part of our community. We’ve talked about incentivizing that for every employee in the city. It’s a process. I’ve only been on the job for five months so we’re trying very hard to deal with things as they come up,” Sundquist said.
Chief Snellings also said that while he supports hiring more minority officers, it can be difficult when the city receives few, if any, applications In response, one attendee suggested the police department work harder at encouraging young minorities within the community to pursue careers in law enforcement.
When asked if they felt George Floyd was murdered by the Minneapolis Police Officer, Snellings and Quatrone both acknowledged the the restraint being used wasn’t standard procedure and shouldn’t have been used, but both stopped short of saying it was murder, saying there could have been other factors at play that may have resulted in death. Mayor Sundquist did say that it was murder, based only on what he saw and the information he knows about the case.
A second rally took place at City Hall on Sunday night, beginning at 6 p.m. and continuing until just before 11 p.m. While there was a large gathering in front of city hall on East Third Street near the intersection with Spring, it appeared to be a peaceful event with no damages or arrests reported at that location. However, later in the evening, shortly before midnight, city police did say two men were arrested following an altercation with another group in an area near E. Second and Pine Streets.
Police say 32-year-old Jason Burham of Ashville and 31-year-old Michael Burham of Russell, Pa. were taken into custody on charges of disorderly conduct and fourth-degree criminal possession of a weapon.