Organizers of local movements for racial justice want to make sure the thousands of New Hampshire residents who have marched, rallied and stood in vigils over the past month stay active beyond a few days of demonstrations in the wake of police violence.
Protests in Manchester, Concord, Nashua, Portsmouth and smaller cities and towns across New Hampshire have drawn thousands of people, following the death of a black man while in Minneapolis police custody. Three police officers there have been charged.
At a rally Saturday in Concord, local Black Lives Matter chapters and other racial justice organizers spoke to more than 500 people gathered outside the statehouse.
“The marches and rallies were to raise awareness,” said Samantha Searles of Black Lives Matter Nashua. “Now that it’s in the forefront, we’ve got to keep it up.”
Derry resident Nichell Latimore, who attended Black Lives Matter events in Londonderry and Merrimack this month, said she is writing letters to members of Congress, signing petitions and reading more on race. “I’m happy to see the involvement and the support,” especially in a state as white as New Hampshire, Latimore said.
“This is bigger than one or two people. As much as this is about George Floyd and Breonna Taylor, it’s not just about George Floyd and Breonna Taylor,” Latimore said, referring to the Minnesota man and a Kentucky woman killed by police this spring.
James T. McKim, president of the Manchester branch of the NAACP, led protesters in chanting “Black Lives Matter” and other slogans.
“Those slogans don’t mean anything if we don’t take action,” McKim said. “First and foremost, vote. Secondly, cajole, twist arms for all your friends, neighbors, family, wherever they live around the United States, and have them vote.”
Organizers wanted to register voters at Saturday’s rally but couldn’t without a Concord city clerk on hand, Searles said.
McKim urged people to fill out their census forms — there was a table at the rally with the paperwork — and talk to their legislators.
“Make sure they are going to vote for us,” McKim said.
The Black Lives Matter chapters in Manchester and Nashua worked together to compile a list of seven demands for gubernatorial candidates.
Organizers want training on implicit bias training for law enforcement and state employees, a civilian board to oversee police, a task force in the governor’s office to seek solutions to systemic racism and a plan to address the disproportionate imprisonment and jailing of black and Latino Granite Staters.
They also want the next governor to state his support for legalizing marijuana and prohibiting the use of tear gas and rubber bullets against nonviolent protesters, as well as support efforts to address racism in schools and curriculum.
County attorneys are on the ballot in November, too.
Joseph Lascaze, an organizer with the American Civil Liberties Union of New Hampshire, reminded those in attendance in Concord on Saturday that county attorneys have great power over criminal justice in New Hampshire.
Lascaze said he hoped people would call their state legislators and ask them to support bills to ban police chokeholds (HB 1645) and to require police to report misconduct to their chiefs (HB 1217).
“Your voice sounds like 1645 being passed,” Lascaze said, as hundreds of people cheered.
“There are tons of ways to show support,” Searles said. “Find a way to show up, even with your dollars,” Searles said, both by donating to charities and activist groups and by spending money with black-owned businesses.
“We want people to know what we’re doing,” said Manchester organizer Mohamed Elhassan. Both Manchester and Nashua Black Lives Matter groups have announced events and initiatives on social media, he said.
Jas LaFond of Concord, who brought her husband and two young daughters to the rally, said she wanted to see people keep talking about race on social media. “I’d hate to see everybody’s timelines go back to normal, and think it’s business as usual, because it isn’t.”
Meccah Hummell of Lowell, Mass., said she wanted protests to continue in order to keep pressure on lawmakers.
“Hopefully, the more people show up, the quicker we’ll get our message across,” Hummel said. Calling legislators’ offices felt like a futile effort, she said. “If I have to stand out here and shout at the top of my lungs, that’s what I’ll do,” she said.
“I think it’s important to keep showing up,” said Jackie Douston of Nashua, sitting with Hummell.
Searles encouraged people to get involved with their local advocacy groups, including Black Lives Matter. “We need people with different skills. We need people.”