It was just a little over a week ago that the world watched in horror as a handcuffed George Floyd pled for mercy on the concrete while Minneapolis Police Officer Derek Chauvin placed his hands in his pockets and his knee on Floyd’s neck. Three other police officers idly stood by as Chauvin forced the life from Floyd in a manner that was both graphic and hauntingly causal.

The video of Floyd’s death was an incredibly painful reminder of the young Black lives that have been needlessly and brutally snuffed out by a fundamentally racist criminal justice system. Universally, this was a call to action. From Minneapolis to Paris, the public execution of George Floyd has sparked massive protests and galvanized the Black Lives Matter movement across the globe.

While most of the focus is on major-metros, thanks to the activism of a few young city residents a series of protests have made their mark in New Bedford as well.

I was able to be a part of the protest on Sunday. Throughout the day, the sounds of car horns honking in support, the loud and passionate and heartbreaking chants of “I CAN'T BREATHE," and the cheers as police officers kneeled in solidarity were an encouraging sign of our local community beginning to unify in addressing these important issues.

Massachusetts State Troopers and New Bedford Police were there to provide escorts to ensure protestors' safety. Many of our elected leaders and public officials were also in attendance Sunday, such as Mayor Jon Mitchell, State Rep. Chris Hendricks, Ward 3 City Councilor Hugh Dunn, Ward 5 City Councilor Scott Lima, former Ward 4 City Councilor Dana Rebeiro, and Chief of Police Joe Cordeiro. Councilor Lima served as the liaison between the protestors and the NBPD to open a dialogue. 

Recently, I had a chance to talk to 21-year-old Cristian Romero, the young and indefatigable activist who, along with 20-year-old Seanna Brum, sparked this passionate and rapidly growing movement at the local level that has garnered statewide and national attention. With a bullhorn and a red handkerchief to signify the blood of Black Americans spilled, Romero led marches across the city, making stops at each major intersection and landmark. The hundreds of protestors gathered seemed to feed off of his energy as the peaceful demonstrations continued through the night.

I asked Romero what his thoughts were on the responses to the protests and how we can move forward. Here’s what he had to say.

How did the protest begin?

“The protest began as an acknowledgment of George Floyd on May 30 at 11:30 a.m. It began with a Facebook post made by Seanna Brum which had about 50 shares throughout the morning, and a Twitter post/Snapchat announcement made by me. I stood at City Hall by myself for about 20 minutes until Seanna and her family of six came and we stood by City Hall with our "#blacklivesmatter" and "#justiceforgeorgefloyd" posters. Slowly we started to gain more attraction and attention as our numbers started to grow. We eventually moved the protest to the New Bedford School Department where we had roughly 20-30 protestors. Then as the hours went on, more and more came. I had let them know to meet again the next day at 11:30 a.m. I told them to let everyone know, and to bring their family and friends. On May 31 at 11:30 a.m. I stood there and watched as numbers grew exponentially due to spread by word of mouth. As the days grew on we had an incredible amount of people coming out making noise, giving each other water and pizza, snacks.”

What are your thoughts on how the community has responded to the protest?

“The majority of protestors agreed with my way of spreading peace and positive energy, and a lot of them have thanked me for being a good leader that represents peace and unity. Some have not agreed with my method and my way of words and felt I needed to apply more pressure and aggression to make more of a difference, to hold the police accountable and to not be so quick to obey their rules and not be so impressed by them simply taking a knee with us. I agree with the disagreers and I believe that we should be able to have differences of opinions and be able to have all voices heard, respectfully. So I gave them all a chance to do so.”

Has there been a dialogue with the NBPD? If so, what conversations have been had?

“There has been a dialogue with the NBPD. A respectful dialogue letting a group of six to seven cops share their words and how they feel about the situations going on today in society. They talked to about 300 of us up close and personal and I felt that it was a very peaceful dialogue with great communication. I sat with Ward 5 City Councilor Scott Lima as well as Chief Cordeiro at City Hall and had come to an agreement about coming together again to discuss certain policies.”

What do you think we as a community, our elected leaders, and the NBPD can do going forward to bring positive change to the city?

“For the police, hold your partners accountable when they are doing injustice. If people want to protest, let them peacefully and do not try to instill fear in them with K-9s, batons, as well as tear gas. I also think the education system should be changed and the youth needs to be taught more about Black issues in the country, as well as not hiding certain facts about history in the history books.”

Aside from his activism, Romero spends his time working with the youth of New Bedford at Carney Elementary and the New Bedford YMCA. You can follow him and get updates on the local protests on Twitter @Cristianrayxo.

Marcus Ferro is an attorney practicing in New Bedford and a weekly contributor to The Chris McCarthy Show on 1420 WBSM. Contact him at marcusferrolaw@gmail.com. The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of the author.

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