Not many people would disagree that 2020 is proving to be one for the history books: The shock of a worldwide pandemic and great social unrest stemming from the death of George Floyd, an African American man who died at the hands of police in Minneapolis on May 25 that was captured on a cellphone camera. It’s been a lot of bad news for one year and we’re only halfway through it.
However, last Friday something occurred in our city that was positive. In these divisive times, a Juneteenth march made us proud of both sides, all sides. It could have ended badly, but instead it was inspiring.
The Safe Not Silent Juneteenth March began at 11 a.m. at St. Paul’s Lutheran Church at the corner of Smallwood and Washington streets and proceeded to City Hall where a platform was set up for guest speakers. The event was organized by the Allegany County NAACP with officials estimating the crowd at roughly 350 people. The march included Black Lives Matter movement supporters and citizens protesting the deaths of African Americans during interaction with police.
Prior to the event, rumors swirled on social media that hundreds were being bused into Cumberland and we could expect trouble. People who worked downtown were warned to stay home and others to avoid the area.
We feel it’s safe to say most people don’t want to see violence, burning of businesses, hate speech and looting. We certainly don’t, either. What we saw in downtown Cumberland was a peaceful Juneteenth event. What we saw was the Cumberland Police Department working hand-in-hand with march organizers to ensure a peaceful and safe event.
To quote organizers, “It went off without a hitch.” We applaud this. In addition to the peaceful atmosphere, the event was a display of how our democracy should work. It showed how the rights to assemble and free speech can become effective tools when used properly. Those who took part utilized those rights, and utilized them well.
City police Capt. Chuck Ternent was quoted in our coverage of the event (“Hundreds attend Juneteenth rally downtown”) that appeared the next day.
“We worked together,” Ternent said. “The NAACP and organizers worked with us to help plan. There were some rumors of trouble but they were unsubstantiated and there were no problems. We want to work with the community during these events to make sure everyone is safe.”
Something else to be proud of is our police department, an organization with a solid reputation. Although we are a relatively small city and can’t be compared to a large urban area, the CPD has carried itself with dignity. It has not had police brutality issues and does community policing the way we like to see it.
The Allegany County NAACP, the Cumberland Police Department, the guest speakers, volunteers and the nearly 350 marchers are to be commended for a job well done.