"Racism Has No Home Here" march moves peacefully through Edinboro

Category:  News
Wednesday, September 2nd, 2020 at 2:10 PM
Racism Has No Home Here march moves peacefully through Edinboro by Kimberly Firestine
Photo: Kimberly Firestine

Edinboro community members, university students and more gathered Sunday afternoon for a peaceful march in solidarity with nationwide social justice movements. 

The march, titled “Racism Has No Home Here,” was organized by French Creek Indivisible, a group of Northwestern Pennsylvania residents “gathered together to take political action” in their “communities, counties, commonwealth and nation,” per their Facebook page.  

Approximately 70 walked from the corner of Meadville Street and Darrow Road, past the university, into downtown Edinboro, and up Route 6N. It eventually ended in the parking lot of the Edinboro branch of the Erie County Public Library. This is where French Creek Indivisible co-founder, Lydia Laythe, gave a brief speech to the group, while other organizers helped participants get information on the 2020 Census and the general election in November. The library also had information on racial injustice reading material and had a window display that read, “Close the book on racism.” 

Laythe, addressing the crowd, stated that some council members for the Borough of Edinboro had asked her not to continue with the march for fear of violence and destruction of property. Laythe said they chose not to cancel the march because “victims of violence and police brutality don’t get to cancel their blackness for fear of upsetting racists.” 

Laythe also made a personal connection to the cause, discussing her biracial stepson and her fear for his future. “I know that because he is even half-Black, someday he could be a victim of racism, gun violence or police brutality,” she said. “I have friends that could become victims of racism, gun violence or police brutality. I’m not OK with that happening anywhere, but I’m especially not OK with that happening here in our community.” 

March supporter Budd Luce has been an Edinboro resident for the last 30 years. Luce has been participating in political demonstrations for 40-50 years. He believes that it’s important for majority-white communities like Edinboro to speak up and show up to events like this one because, as he stated, “Silence is complicit.”  

Former Edinboro University professor Robert Cogan spent 35 years of his career at the university and has lived in Edinboro for over 50 years. He said of his attendance, “The main thing that is important is to not let Fascism take over the mood of people in Edinboro.” Cogan believes this should be an important issue to everyone in the community. “What surprises me is the militancy of people on the other side. I’m dismayed by it.” 

Along with march attendees, counter-protesters were positioned along the route and especially in the downtown area. Several individuals had guns with them, others held “Trump 2020” signs, one man raised his middle finger up to the passing march, and yells of “all lives matter” could be heard. One counter-protester yelled, “Follow the law and you won’t get shot,” which led to marchers replying with heated commentary about Breonna Taylor, an emergency medical technician (EMT) who was fatally shot by Louisville Metro Police Department on March 13. 

You could also hear march participants talking to Edinboro police officers about safety concerns, referencing that some counter-protestors were armed and that others were blocking marchers from proceeding on the sidewalk (specifically in front of the Edinboro Hotel Bar).   

Surrounding the event, the “Greg Hayes 2020” Facebook page, which is a social home for Hayes’ candidacy for state representative in Pennsylvania’s 3rd District, was very active. On Aug. 29, the page posted:  

“Tomorrow, Sunday, at 1pm BLM is arriving in Edinboro to protest. Edinboro? Our small quiet community? As a Republican candidate for 3rd District I have the responsibility to inform those that don't already know this is coming to your front yards. I PRAY that this remains a peaceful 'protest' and NOT turn into what we see happening all over America. Please join me in prayer that God watches and protects us all. Authorities are aware of this event. If you have any further questions please contact us or the Edinboro police.” 

The account posted again, a few hours later, while sharing the event page for the march: “This is who is sponsoring the protest tomorrow. Why are busses bringing in people? She clearly states she never promised to represent her majority...? Really?? Why on earth was she elected? This is what she is bringing to Edinboro. Again, I pray it is a peaceful day.” 

The former post prompted 720 comments as of Wednesday, Sept. 2, ranging from those debating the march’s purpose, those stating they’d be exercising their right to carry a firearm at the event, and arguments over the nature of the overall Black Lives Matter movement.  

On the latter post, one commenter referred to the march as a “Bunch of liberal ass democrat professors!!,” while others repeated calls to protect the town against the event and feared violence.

Following the march, the “Greg Hayes 2020” account commented about the results: “They ran their mouths but kept the violence out.” 

In the time leading up to the march, French Creek Indivisible also made three posts on their event page reminding everyone that planned to participate that it would be a peaceful event. On Aug. 27, they posted: “I want to emphasize that this is a peaceful event - if anyone should try to engage with participants in a negative way, I strongly urge people to ignore it or walk away. Stay focused. Stay calm. Stay safe.” 

A post from the day before the event reads: “REMINDER: We are PEACEFULLY marching tomorrow. We will stay peaceful no matter what. This event is not about the angry white men who wish to oppose it. And they won’t scare us away from doing what is right. This is about standing beside the black and brown people within and outside our community that don’t get to choose whether or not they’ll become victims of racist gun violence. Don’t let detractors manipulate the narrative.” 

Caitlin Bieganski, an illustration and metalsmithing major at Edinboro, participated in the march. She believes smaller communities that are majority white still have a responsibility to show support and solidarity when it comes to issues of racial injustice.

“Racism still exists in small communities, even if they are a majority white,” she said. “Even if people of color aren’t here to speak up for themselves, we need to be here for them.” 

Laythe noted this wouldn't be the last event held in Edinboro but that COVID-19 has made planning more challenging.  

“I’m really excited that we can have this kind of turnout for folks to show our support and show our solidarity. I really hope that we don’t see this gathering and see it dissipate where people go back to their lives, their homes and don’t continue this,” she said. “I want this to be a constant campaign of visibility and solidarity so that people never feel like they don’t know who they can turn to.” 

Edinboro Police Chief Al Donahue said there were no arrests or citations during or after the march. “It was very peaceful. We saw no reason to make arrests or issue citations." 

You can view our live stream of the march on Instagram.

Kimberly Firestine is the Executive Editor for The Spectator. She can be reached at edinboro.spectator@gmail.com.

Additional Photos:

Photo: Kimberly FirestinePhoto: Kimberly FirestinePhoto: Kimberly FirestinePhoto: Sydney DundonPhoto: Sydney DundonPhoto: Sydney Dundon

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