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Black Lives Matter Leads Hundreds in Prayer and Chants in Manchester

Christina Phillips for NHPR

Hundreds of people gathered in Manchester Tuesday night for a peaceful vigil organized by the group Black Lives Matter.

The event came amidst protests and unrest across the country in response to the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis on May 25.

With a helicopter flying overhead and police cars parked nearby, attendees held up candles and shouted the names of people of color who have been killed by police or while in police custody.

The Manchester Police Department estimated there were over 700 people in attendance, though that number could not be independently confirmed.

After a series of chants and prayers, Black Lives Matter organizer Elijah Kendrick told white attendees they needed to work harder to become allies.

“Use your privilege,” he told them. “If you see one of us get pulled over by police, stand right there. Use your privilege.”

“Black lives matter,” he continued in call and response. “We don’t want to hear ‘all lives matter.’ We want to hear ‘black lives matter!’”

Melvina Gaye, 19, said the event – organized largely by young people who grew up in Manchester – signaled a shift for the city.

“This was actually one of the first events that I felt was actually lead by a bunch of black people,” she said. “To see that they're speaking out and we’re not going to keep silenced - it’s making others want to speak out too.”

Credit Christina Phillips for NHPR
Black Lives Matter organizers in Stark Park, where some of them first met in 2016 after the killings of Philando Castile and Michael Brown.

Jasmyn Dobe stood beside Gaye with a sign that read ‘If you’re not outraged you’re not paying attention.’ She and Gaye said they weren’t comforted by the number of city police and other members of law enforcement monitoring the city on Tuesday.

“Where was this police presence when people were protesting the quarantine in front of the State House fully armed?” said Dobe, referring to recent rallies against the state's stay-at-home order. “To see the difference between the two is ridiculous.”

The Manchester Police Department said it was keeping an eye on threats on social media of riots and violence.

City police said in a press release on Wednesday that over the course of the night, "other groups became unruly," setting off fireworks, attempting to block traffic, and confronting police officers who were in riot gear on South Willow Street. The police arrested 10 adults and 3 juveniles. Most were charged with Disorderly Conduct and Riot and all were released on PR bail. 

The press release confirmed that the vigil was peaceful, and there were no arrests.

Black Lives Matter organizers said the protesters encountered elsewhere in Manchester were not affiliated with the group or the vigil.

 Editor's note: This page has been updated to include details on the arrests, which were made public on Wednesday.

Sarah Gibson joined NHPR's newsroom in 2018. She reports on education and demographics.
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