Nearly 600 protesters lined Route 1 near Rehoboth Beach June 5 in a peaceful protest against police brutality and racism.
The line of protesters, most carrying homemade signs, stretched from County Bank to The Palms of Rehoboth condominium complex. Protesters began lining up at 3:30 p.m., half an hour before the protest was scheduled to begin. From there the line of protesters expanded longer and longer.
While there was a police presence, Delaware State Police officers kept their distance and did not interact with protesters. A police helicopter circled overhead during part of the one-hour protest. The crowd began dispersing around 5 p.m., although some protesters remained on the sidewalks past 5:30.
Throughout the protest, the most prominent sound was car horns from motorists passing by, some just honking their horns, others taking cellphone videos of the protest or holding out signs themselves.
Trina Brown Hicks of Lewes said, “We need to show the world that police brutality and racism and anything that is counterproductive to our American society, we should not stand. We should come together and be one, and stand against any police brutality or racism.”
Don Peterson, outreach committee chairman for the Southern Delaware Alliance for Racial Justice, said, “The response to this has been tremendous. What’s great is if you look up and down and see the diversity of the folks here. This is not just a white issue or a black issue; this is for all of us.”
Protests have popped up all over the country in the aftermath of the killing of George Floyd while in the custody of officers of the Minneapolis Police Department, a killing that was caught on cellphone video. Protests have taken place in all 50 states and the District of Columbia, with Delaware protests taking place in Wilmington, Dover and Georgetown. The Rehoboth protest had been co-sponsored by the alliance and Women’s March Sussex, and while both organizations pulled their sponsorship, members of those organizations were in attendance for the June 5 protest.
Brenda Milbourne, a longtime community activist in West Rehoboth, said, “This is power when people of both colors come together in a strong, united way. Enough is enough. There’s going to be a change.”
Milbourne, who helped found West Side New Beginnings, a children’s after-school program, said change is a long time in coming, and that she was most proud to see people of all races, young and old, come together.
“This is not about color,” she said. “This about people uniting. If we can do this, we can make a change. This is about justice. Justice for all.”
As for why this moment has been so galvanizing, nationwide, Milbourne said, “People think, ‘That could have been my child.’ This has been a wake-up call for all people.”
Patricia and Calvin Jackson, of Lewes, said, “Things need to change and we want to be part of that change. I love seeing this turnout. The diversity here is super. I think it was a perfect storm. People are sick and tired of it. And the corona and people at home, and the emotions are really peaked for everyone.”
Lewes resident James Sherard is an Air Force veteran who spent most of his life in the Washington, D.C. area before retiring to coastal Delaware six years ago. Now in his 60s, he grew up in South Carolina and experienced systemic racism as a boy. A member of the Southern Delaware Alliance for Racial Justice, he said he was hopeful seeing younger people turn out to protest, and that it is important for them to learn the history of racial injustice in America.
“When I was 10 or 12 years old, I was told I couldn’t go into a bathroom in South Carolina because I was black,” Sherard said. “One of the things we’ve been focusing on is talking to young people. And not just young black people, but young white people as well, to get them to understand what this is all about. The education system has not given all the history that has made the country what it is. The young people here, that’s a good sign.”
He said he is hopeful that the nationwide protests lead to some sort of meaningful change, but that it is going to be a long and difficult road to get there.
“This whole process is sort of like eating an elephant: one piece at a time,” Sherard said. “I think we move as far and as fast as we can move during a given time and be hopeful that this will make a difference.
“To coin the old cliche, I want to keep hope alive. That things will get better. Just keep working at it, that’s all.”