Two local women are organizing a noon protest Thursday, June 4, over the death of George Floyd. Floyd died on May 25 after a Minneapolis police officer knelt on his neck for over eight minutes.
The officer has been fired and charged with third degree murder and manslaughter, and the incident has led to peaceful protests as well as riots in the U.S. and abroad.
According to organizer Abigail Bragunier, who has been publicizing the event on Facebook, the protest will take place in front of the Lebanon Municipal Building, 400 S. 8th Street. It will start at noon and end at 2:00 p.m.
“We ask that everyone leave after that,” Bragunier said.
8th Street between Locust and Elm Streets will be detoured during the rally.
Bragunier told LebTown that she and her co-organizer, Paige Hall, met with Lebanon Mayor Sherry Capello and Police Chief Todd Breiner on Monday afternoon to discuss arrangements. She said that the city has has agreed to issue a permit for the assembly and street closing.
In a Monday evening Facebook post, Bragunier said, “the police chief and the mayor are doing everything in their power to keep us safe, as well as keep the police safe. We invited the police, and they are going to attend.”
“However,” she continued, “please be advised that they will be wearing riot gear. This is in no way to invoke any kind of violence, but to protect the police. They are giving us all of their support, and I ask that we accept it with open arms.”
“The big thing I want to stress is this is supposed to bring the community together. It’s not supposed to separate us. It’s supposed to be peaceful. I want people to know that.”
Mayor Capello’s statement
Mayor Capello emailed LebTown on Tuesday afternoon and confirmed that she and Chief Breiner had met with Bragunier and Hall, and that a permit would be issued.
Capello said that Bragunier and Hall told her on Monday that, as of Monday, 161 people had said they would be attending, with another 420 expressing interest. (As of press time, the event shows 199 going and 472 interested.) “Based on their projected numbers attending, we provided the protesters with an entire city block. Hopefully, this helps with social distancing as well.”
The mayor stated in her email that, “what happened to George Floyd is unacceptable. There needs to be justice, but it will not be obtained with chaos and destruction. The City met with the organizers of the planned protest yesterday afternoon and it is their intention for the event to be peaceful and positive. That is what the City is hoping for as well. The City is working with state and county law enforcement agencies to devise a plan for Thursday’s event and we will be prepared for contingencies.”
She said that, “we will have a law enforcement presence in the downtown and throughout the city, not just at the event venue itself utilizing Pennsylvania State Police and Lebanon County Police Departments, including the Lebanon County Sheriff’s Department and the County Detectives. This will be in an effort to maintain a safe environment during and after the event.”
According to the mayor, the Municipal Building will close early on Thursday so employees will not be on-site.
The mayor added that, “the protesters will be located in front of the Lebanon County-City Municipal Building. We have provided them with access to the parking lot on S. 8th Street, across the street from Elm Street. This lot will be available for media parking as well. No one will have access to the rear of the building.”
Finally, the mayor said that the city police will not enforce Governor Wolf’s ban on public gatherings of more than 25 people due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Lebanon County is currently on “yellow” status under the governor’s tiered reopening plan.
“I was concerned about this question . . . ,” she said, “and consulted with the City Solicitor. The city cannot restrict someone’s free speech activity (constitutional right). We will stress the importance of social distancing and the wearing of masks, which they volunteered to promote.”
When asked about the possibility of outsiders and groups bent on disruption and conflict showing up, Capello said “The City is gathering intel on different groups, however, we cannot confirm whether or not these groups will be present.”
Who’s behind the protest?
In a Tuesday morning phone call with LebTown, Bragunier, a Cedar Crest High School graduate and Lebanon resident, told LebTown that she is not affiliated with any organized group, and that she and Hall are the sole organizers.
Bragunier said that she had not heard from any groups or organizations since the protest was announced, expects none to be present, and has sought no organized support.
She added that two individuals, Dan Sidelnick and Aurelis Gonzalez-Figueroa, had offered help with supplies and preparations, and that she expected that other community members might volunteer to do the same.
Gonzalez-Figueroa has offered poster materials and water, Bragunier said.
Sidelnick is chairman of the Lebanon County Democratic Party. Reached for comment on Tuesday afternoon, he said that he saw the protest’s announcement on Facebook and participated in a group chat “with ten or so people” which led to a request for standard voter registration forms for distribution at the protest.
Sidelnick could not remember who exactly made the request, but said that co-organizer Hall had picked up “about 20 or 30” voter registration forms at county Democratic headquarters.
Sidelnick ended by saying that neither he personally nor the county Democratic organization had made any other contributions or offered to do so.
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