They raised their voices and their fists as they walked along Lancaster Avenue under a blazing sun. The crowd of thousands chanted “George Floyd" in honor of the man who was killed when a Minneapolis police officer knelt on his neck for nearly nine minutes.
Wearing masks, they pushed babies in strollers and pulled young children in wagons. They held handmade signs with messages like “We all bleed the same” and “If you’re not angry, you’re not paying attention.”
The protesters, most of whom were white, walked from Wayne to Paoli, through some of the state’s wealthiest and whitest zip codes, where black people make up less than 5% of the population. They vowed to help people of color address the burden of centuries of racism and inequality, and to push for meaningful change.
“All of us here are ready to start doing more,” said Madison Miller, 26, of Berwyn, who is white. “I think it’s easy to think police brutality doesn’t happen here, because it’s a predominantly white community. But it can happen anywhere.”
The five-mile march, organized by the Main Line for Black Lives and accompanied by a police escort, is one of several protests that have taken place in the Philadelphia suburbs this week. While they have not drawn the same attention as demonstrations in the city, organizers and attendees said it’s important suburban residents are also being moved to act.
Roshaun Christopher, 20, and his brother, Amani, 18, said the Main Line protest was much larger than they expected. They came to make a statement as black men from Malvern, and were heartened by the show of solidarity.
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“It’s not just a one-race problem,” Roshaun Christopher said. “It’s a human problem.”
Organizer Tajsha Gray-Vause implored the group to maintain the same energy and enthusiasm after they got home, and to educate themselves in order to be better allies.
“If you see ignorance, please call it out,” Gray-Vause said. “Nothing is going to change until we start doing that."
Hundreds more gathered by the Montgomery County Courthouse in Norristown to call for the resignation of Republican Commissioner Joseph C. Gale. This week, Gale released a lengthy statement about weekend protests in Philadelphia, some of which were followed by violence.
The commissioner called Black Lives Matter “a radical left-wing hate group” that perpetrates “urban domestic terror,” and dismissed police brutality as “a bogus narrative.”
On social media, Gale’s comments were blasted by many, including 76ers forward Tobias Harris, and Thursday’s crowd made it clear the commissioner’s words would not be tolerated by people he represents.
“Joe must go,” the group repeatedly chanted, at the same time that the county commissioners were holding a virtual meeting that was streamed in the building behind them.
Later, Gale’s fellow commissioners, Valerie Arkoosh and Kenneth E. Lawrence Jr., both Democrats, voted to censure and condemn Gale for his “hateful, divisive and false” statements. Gale said in a statement that “you can censure me but you cannot silence me."
The group in Norristown pushed for more. They wanted Gale off the board, and called for greater racial equality and representation in county government, said Marlena Green. The 36-year-old Norristown native was part of a multiracial panel of female activists who organized Thursday’s event.
Local officials joined in their calls.
“That press release from Commissioner Gale was trash. ... I wasn’t happy to see what was happening [in Philadelphia], but I understood,” Norristown Councilman Hakim Jones told the crowd. “In crowds like this and communities like this, we’ll change the narrative and get rid of people like Joe Gale."
The people listened intently and responded with enthusiasm.
A young black boy held a sign that read “Love One Another” as he knelt next to a white man with an American flag bandanna covering his mouth and a sign that read, “Peace and equality." Another man held a cardboard sign constructed out of a pizza box. He had written, “The Jewish community stands with our black brothers and sisters. No justice, no shalom.”
Tyler Lawson, 21, watched the protest from a plaza above. The Upper Dublin Towship native and University of Pennsylvania student created an online petition calling for Gale’s resignation that has received more than 78,000 signatures.
“I think it’s especially important that this happens in the suburbs," and white people stand in solidarity, she said. “This is an issue black people in this county have been talking about for years and years.”