PLEASANT HILLS, Pa. (KDKA) — They prayed, they invoked the Peace mantra of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and they spoke from the heart about the long-running treatment of people based on their skin color.
Walking in a circle around a closed-off area of the Southland Shopping Center they came out of personal concern.READ MORE: Law Enforcement Surround Home In Burgettstown, Man Eventually Taken Into Custody
Cheryl Long calls Clairton home.
“I had a son beaten by the police three months ago and it was so unnecessary one bad cop and they joined in and thank god he was alright,” she said.
Sparked by Pleasant Hills Middle School students doing a video re-enacting of George Floyd’s death, the demonstrators gathered to raise their voices about the video and Floyd’s death at the hands of Minneapolis Police.
Concern the protest could turn violent prompted most of the stores in the shopping center to board up their windows. An extensive police presence was staged in nearby parking lots out of sight just in case.
Pleasant Hills Police Chief Brian Finnerty who took a knee with protestors in a prayerful remembers of Floyd says the police were on standby for protection.
“I think for their safety we don’t know who else might come to oppose that,” Finnerty said. “We want everyone to be safe.”
A group of armed ‘militia’ garbed men were also on hand on the fringes of the protest. Some carried visible sidearms, and another twirled a black baseball bat.
Their spokesman who identified himself only as Lance said, “We’re here to basically keep the businesses safe. We’re not here to instigate anything. We’re not here to try and cause any problems, we just want our communities to be safe again. It’s getting out of hand. We all need to come together as one nation, we can’t keep doing this to each other.”
Among the protestors today was John Popp who brought his son.
“I came to teach my son this isn’t right, nobody should be killed at the hands of a bad cop, but I want to make sure the good cops are recognized as well,” Popp said.READ MORE: COVID-19 In Pennsylvania: State Health Dept. Announces 2,757 More Coronavirus Cases, 43 Additional Deaths
Led by Delivery Baptist’s Hillary William, the protest was coordinated with the police and peaceful from start to finish.
Taking the bull horn, Thomas Jefferson High School Jr. student Zyan Barrett told the crowd, “We shall love and there shall be peace.”
And fellow TJ Jr. student Jackie Guenther who is white and leads a diversity group at her school said, “I see you, I hear you, I care for you I love you and I will fight for your rights.”
Williams pleas were impassioned as she called on everyone to continue to use their cell phone cameras and report wrongs. It was a message from the heart of a concerned mother.
“I have two black sons one in college and one on his way,” Williams said. “I won’t let them go outside because I think in my mind what if I’m not there.”
Also on hand to speak to the crowd that was both mixed in race and gender and generally young was Pennsylvania State Police Corporal Aaron Allen. He’s part of the state police Equality and Inclusion Office, which investigates racial issues involving the police.
“What happened was wrong we support this protest we support everything that is going on to make sure this never happens again,” he said.
Penn State’s Lamont Wade of Clairton was a standout athlete in high school. He told the crowd to not just gather but to follow up with action.
“If you are out here today then that means you want change,” Wade said. “And we need to see actions towards change starting today.”
After a prayer led by a circle of clergy, the group moved to the guardrail along Route 51 to share their messages with passing drivers. Those honking in support were almost a non-stop chorus.
Then, promptly at 2 p.m., Hillary Williams got on her bull horn again, declared the protest over and told everyone to go home.MORE NEWS: COVID-19 In Pittsburgh: Allegheny Co. Health Dept. Reports 9 Additional Deaths, 288 More Coronavirus Cases
And they did.