MILTON — The Milton-based group, If Not Us, Then Who? returned to its hometown for a rally on Sunday to introduce its demands that it will present to the borough — from bans on police chokeholds and strangleholds and “demilitarization” of police to African American history in local schools.
The group has held the Black Lives Matter protests throughout the Valley over the summer, like those around the country, following the deaths of Blacks at the hands of police.
One of the organizers, Frank Manzano, said they want a pledge from the mayor to review police policies and get public feedback on when police have used abusive force on borough citizens.
“We want them to implement change based on the findings that they have on the review of the use of force policies,” Manzano said.
Keayon Williams read some of the other negotiating points to reporters — the ban on chokeholds and strangleholds, for police to exhaust all alternatives before shooting, warning before shooting, a ban on shooting at moving vehicles.
The group wants to demilitarize police so that no guns are present during traffic stops and that social workers and mental health professionals respond to low-level nonviolent police calls, “So we don’t need to dispatch police with guns that intimidate citizens,” Manzano said.
The protest drew about 100 people, some holding signs. They stood on Filbert Street in front of the Milton Borough Police station, echoing chants such as “No Trump, no KKK, no facist USA,” and “No good cops in a racist system” that the leaders shouted through bullhorns.
It turned tense at moments.
A man in a white pickup truck with a California license plate on the back and large American and Blue Lives Matter flags in the back, and who was seen driving around the borough earlier, tried to get the protesters to move off of the street. For several tense moments, they refused and stood blocking his way, as he laid on his horn.
Milton police rolled up, with backing from police from several other departments, to clear the street, but it took several more minutes. Borough Police Chief Curt Zettlemoyer calmly but repeatedly told the protesters to clear the street as another officer in a police vehicle did the same on the public address system. Some protesters argued they had a right to be there. But group members told others they did not need to get arrested, and the crowd eventually parted to allow the pickup through.
“We were just trying to get him out of there,” Zettlemoyer said later of the pickup driver.
He said there also were some tense moments near the end of the protest when other people showed up and some words were exchanged.
He said police also want transparency and making sure there are no issues of police brutality.
Protest organizer Kareem K.J. Williams said the group is willing to work with the school board to find out what the discipline is for students who use racism as a bullying tactic. He said there should be immediate suspension.
“Second offense, they should be immediately expelled,” said Williams, who said he and other organizers all experienced racism in school. “Hate runs very deep in these small communities.”
Amanda Savage, 43, of Benton, who works as a substitute teacher, said she has been following the group over the summer.
“I grew up in this area,” said Savage, who taught in Hawaii for 18 years. “I know it’s very closed to diversity.”
She said when she hears the group members’ everyday stories, she see what struggles they go through.
The protesters also gathered in the road and took a knee for a moment of silence for the victims of police brutality and systemic racism.
Zettlemoyer was happy the protest was peaceful overall. He said his department had backup. from the Union County Sheriff’s Department, Buffalo Valley Regional Police, and Watsontown and Point Township police. Other agencies were on standby, the chief said.