The collective planned the first local protest in Milton in the wake of the murder of George Floyd, which sparked demonstrations across the country and around the world.
They were angered and frustrated at the sight of the now-former Minneapolis, Minnesota police officer, Derek Chauvin, pushing his body’s weight through his knee and onto Floyd’s neck. Floyd stopped breathing and millions of voices rose up.
“We’ve got to stop this right now. We’ve got to do something,” Frank Manzano, 23, of Milton, said of the origins of If Not Us, Then Who?
Manzano figured 20 or 30 people might show up May 31. The count approached 200. The crowd was diverse across racial and gender lines. They rallied in the streets of Milton, amassing outside the police station and demanding recognition and change.
The Milton group and another group, Central PA Protests, organized rallies in Selinsgrove, Mifflinburg, Sunbury, Lewisburg and Watsontown. Public demonstrations figure to continue, said fellow organizer Kareem Williams Jr., 23, of Milton. That’s not all they hope to achieve.
“We want to motivate our younger brothers and sisters and people our age to go out there and vote,” Williams said. “We want our people of color in this area to feel like they can go out and run for positions of power because around here we don’t have that.”
Williams, Manzano and Manzano’s younger brother, Francisco “Tony,” 20, also of Milton, spoke with energy and optimism about bringing equality to government. They smiled and talked excitedly, pointing out how no demonstration turned violent and scoffing at baseless social media allegations that Antifa protestors were being bussed into the Valley.
When the conversation shifted to their own encounters with racist behavior, their lips pursed and their bodies appeared to grow tense. They spoke knowingly about feeling targeted for their skin color.
The Manzanos told separate stories of being part of traffic stops. The older brother said he and two friends were identified and questioned outside their vehicle about a speeding violation while a white friend sat alone in the car without any initial police interaction. The younger brother said he sat in a vehicle alone once himself, believing his white friend was being investigated for impaired driving because his passenger was Hispanic.
Williams recalled his first day as a freshman at Milton High School, hearing two students behind him talking about how the “school’s going to s—t. All these n——-s here now.”
“I remember their faces and their names to this day. It’s something I’ll never forget,” Williams said.
Tony Manzano hopes his message isn’t lost on area youth who attend the rallies or just happen to pass by. He recalls watching a woman close a passenger window of her vehicle as a small group protested at Route 522 and Market Street in Selinsgrove. She didn’t want her child to hear the message or read the signs, he said he believed.
“What I think is most powerful is getting into the kids’ heads, getting into that future because that’s what’s going to lead this country. That really made me want to push that, alright, I need to get into the kids’ heads and not their parents’ heads,” Tony Manzano said.
“You don’t fix anything being comfortable. You’ve got to get uncomfortable to fix these kinds of situations,” Frank Manzano said.