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New Hampshire's BLM Leaders Ask: How Many More Vigils Will We Need To Hold?

Over 100 people gathered in Manchester Saturday night for another vigil honoring those who have lost their lives to police violence. 

New Hampshire’s Black Lives Matter leaders who organized the event say they're tired. After a year of calling for change, they said there has been no real action from state leaders to enact racial justice reform, as police killings of Black people across the country continue.

The vigil, organized by the Manchester YWCA along with several local BLM chapters, was officially in memory of 20-year-old Daunte Wright who was killed by police in Minnesota during a traffic stop.

BLM leaders told the crowd that police reform is not enough to stop police violence. They say the focus should be on defunding and ultimately abolishing the police.

“We try to work with elected officials; we try to work with local police to bridge gaps, to find common ground, to do reform work,” Black Lives Matter Nashua founder Jordan Thompson said. “But the system can’t be reformed, and we’re not here asking to reform. We’re here asking for abolition.”

Thompson called out New Hampshire lawmakers who attended this and other vigils, but who have then voted against proposals for what he called basic police reforms.

“You will show up to these vigils, and you’ll tweet ‘Black Lives Matter’ and ‘I met with Black Lives Matter,’ ” Thompson said. “But when it’s time to vote the way that we ask you to vote, it’s silence, or you vote the wrong way.”

Black Lives Matter Manchester, Nashua and Seacoast put out seven demands last summer for gubernatorial candidates in response to the killing of George Floyd by Minneapolis police. Those included requiring implicit bias training for all state and government employees, creating a new racial equity task force and prohibiting the use of rubber bullets and tear gas by police.

None of these demands have been met, by Gov. Chris Sununu or state lawmakers, in the past year. And only a handful of the recommendations by Sununu’s commission on police accountability and transparency for reform have been implemented.

“This is what we mean when we say electoral politics will not be our saving grace,” said Ronelle Tshiela, co-founder of Black Lives Matter Manchester. “They have left us exhausted, and they have left us even more fearful for our lives than we were before we started. We have spent a year doing this, and we’re tired.”

Activist Kurt Bertrand, who also spoke at the event, pointed to the state budget proposal recently passed by the New Hampshire House, which includes a provision that would bar tax money from flowing to entities that teach about systemic racism and sexism.

“We live in a state that oftentimes wants to say that it is welcome of diversity, and then their actions say the opposite,” Bertrand said.

The night ended with a call to action for those in the crowd to keep showing up to fight for racial justice.

“Think about all the people you know a year ago who showed up to a George Floyd protest in May and June when it was aesthetically pleasing for their Instagram,” Jordan Thompson said. “Now look around, and do you see those people here today? Maybe not.”

The Black Lives Matter chapters say they’ll continue organizing events throughout the summer, but they are also still working in their local communities to provide aid, like utility relief, to New Hampshire residents of color.

Mary McIntyre is a senior producer at NHPR.

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