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An estimated 500 people peacefully gathered in front of the Lebanon Municipal Building at noon Thursday, June 4, to protest the May 25 killing of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police officers.
The weather was hot and humid, and at least one protester fainted, but the mood, while serious, was calm throughout.
A few dozen seeking better vantage points spilled onto the shady and elevated lawn in front of the Beth Israel Synagogue across the street. The temple’s windows had been boarded up in advance, a precaution that turned out to be unnecessary.
About a half dozen Lebanon City police officers and Pennsylvania State Police troopers, dressed in everyday patrol uniforms, remained on the periphery throughout, venturing once briefly into the crowd to assist the the fainted protester, and later going to the makeshift podium to receive acknowledgement from the protest’s organizers, and an appreciative round of applause.
Lebanon Police Chief Todd Breiner and a PSP trooper were seen exchanging greetings with protest organizer Abigail Bragunier before the event’s start.
In the days leading up to the protest, many had feared that organized outside agitators on the left and the right, bent on provoking violence, would show up, but there was no visible evidence throughout the day. Police were prepared, however, with police from across the county providing backup, including state troopers. Additional surveillance equipment was also installed to provide further visibility to police monitoring the event from inside the municipal building.
Some nearby businesses, including DiNunzio’s hoagie shop, had closed Thursday in anticipation of a possible disturbance. City and county employees were also dismissed earlier in the day, and Lebanon School District staff was assisting with crowd control further up 8th Street to prevent any potential mixup with Lebanon High School’s graduation ceremonies, which were ongoing throughout the day.
Protest on South 8th Street
With Chief Breiner and organizers at her side, Mayor Sherry Capello welcomed those attending.
She began by complimenting the organizers. “Today standing with you, in a symbolic gesture of unity, I have Lebanon Police Chief Todd Breiner . . . along with the organizers Abigail Bragunier and Paige Hall. I want to commend these two young women for taking the initiative to stand up for their beliefs, for what is right and just. That is not always easy to do.”
“What happened to George Floyd is unacceptable, period,” the mayor continued. “No excuses, and on behalf of my office, and the police department, our thoughts and prayers are with Mr. Floyd’s family. We are sorry for their loss. There needs to be justice, but it will not be obtained with chaos and destruction.”
A series of speakers then stood atop or in front of concrete traffic barriers at 8th & Elm Streets, and used a megaphone to address the crowd, many of whom held “Black Lives Matter,” “I Can’t Breath,” and “Justice 4 Floyd” signs.
Common to all their remarks was the history of disparate police treatment of whites and minorities, the importance of taking a peaceful but firm stand against racism, and the notion that silence is often complicity.
Peaceful protest becomes impromptu peaceful march through city
When announcing the protest earlier this week, organizer Abigail Bragunier was clear that she planned a two hour rally and that “we ask that everyone leave after that.”
After about an hour, several speakers took to the megaphone, and some of the protesters close to the podium, while remaining orderly, became louder and tenser.
It was at that point that organizers called Chief Breiner and a few of his officers to the podium, where they were thanked and given a polite round of applause.
Someone, whose identity remains unclear, then called for the crowd to take a knee as a symbolic protest of police brutality. Chief Breiner respectfully declined and he and his officers left the podium.
Breiner later said that he wanted to stand with the protestors, but also wanted to “stand for what I believe.”
Exactly who remains unclear, but someone near the podium then called for the crowd to do an about face and begin marching north on 8th Street, and most of the crowd did so, although many appeared to be confused and were overheard wondering what was happening and where they were heading.
The marchers then proceeded peacefully up 8th Street and eventually east through the city’s north side, then west on Cumberland. They ended up at the Lebanon County Correctional Facility on East Walnut Street.
Along the way, they passed a few boarded up buildings and, in the first block of South Eight Street, two groups of armed men with assault style weapons at their sides who were guarding businesses. They were mostly ignored by the marchers.
Several eyewitnesses observing the march at different points along the way commented that it was orderly and kept moving.
The march included a stop at the county jail, and there were reports of some shouting and profanity, but no violence. On Friday morning, Chief Breiner confirmed that he was aware of reported graffiti at the Lebanon VFW, a report of which went viral in a Lebanon Facebook group following the event, and that it did appear to have occurred Thursday during the event time. Breiner said that the taggers were confronted by a few residents and a heated exchanged briefly followed before all went on their way. Breiner noted that it would be difficult to identify the tagger.
As of press time, police had not reported any arrests, injuries, or criminal incidents related to the protest.
Local Congressman Dan Meuser (R-PA9) was seen at the protest and complimented the police and the protestors. He spoke to LebTown afterwards.
“I felt it my duty to be here as a member of Congress and be with the people to show support and learn from it.” Meuser added “we all have to be learning so we all understand each other better and become part of the healing. “
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This article was updated to include more information about the tagging incident at the Lebanon VFW.