Activists from local Black Lives Matter chapters and other social justice groups from across the state gathered outside the New Hampshire State House on Saturday, calling for an end to systemic racism, white supremacy and police brutality.
The event — billed as a Day of Action and organized largely by young people — included poetry, song and calls for justice for Black Americans killed by police officers.
The Concord demonstration was just one of several racial justice demonstrations happening across New Hampshire this weekend, with one in Portsmouth on Friday and another in Peterborough on Saturday.
Activists at the Concord event called attention to a newly released list of policy demands aimed at this year’s candidates for governor, drafted by Black Lives Matter Manchester and Black Lives Matter Nashua. Among the reforms on the list are a prohibition on the use of tear gas and rubber bullets against unarmed protestors, and the creation of a civilian oversight board to monitor police activity. The list of demands followed a week in which Andru Volinsky, a Democrat on New Hampshire’s Executive Council and a gubernatorial candidate, came under scrutiny for dismissing two Black nominees to state posts as unqualified.
“It doesn’t matter if you are a Democrat or a Republican, or an Independent or a Libertarian, or a member of another political party,” Jordan Thompson, with Black Lives Matter Nashua, told the crowd. “You will be held accountable.”
During Saturday’s rally, however, it was Gov. Chris Sununu who came under criticism. The event’s organizers led the crowd in a chant of “Where’s Chris,” after the governor failed to attend.
Najee Brown, an activist and playwright who also spoke at Saturday’s event in Concord, said that weeks of recent protests since George Floyd was killed by police in Minneapolis is making a global impact.
“You have to find hope in this, because this has never happened before,” Brown said. “The world is responding to the pain of Black people.”
But along with optimism that meaningful changes could be ahead, Saturday’s event also called attention to how deeply entrenched racism is —not just nationwide, but also in New Hampshire.
“Have you ever been told over and over and over again by white people that they don’t see color?” Jackie Gadsden asked the crowd in Concord, as she described experiencing racist threats during her years living in Portsmouth. “You know what I tell folks? If you can’t see that I am a Black female, I am worried about you.”
Those leading the Concord rally encouraged participants to stay engaged in the months ahead — by contacting their elected officials, filling out the census, and voting for candidates in November who share their beliefs.
There was also an acknowledgement that the vigils and protests of the last month that have reignited the Black Lives Matter movement in New Hampshire have been organized by a new generation of activists mostly in their early 20s.
“Movements throughout history are led by youth,” said James McKim, president of the Manchester chapter of the NAACP. “We need our youth.”
State Sen. Melanie Levesque, a Democrat from Brookline, said lawmakers in Concord are already taking action to respond to growing calls for police reform. That includes one measure, HB 1645, that would ban the use of chokeholds by police officers and would require officers to report misconduct by their colleagues.
Other rallies protesting against systemic racism are taking place across New Hampshire this weekend, including a march Sunday afternoon in Manchester.