Unrest on South Willow Street: ‘The peaceful protest has ended’

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MANCHESTER, NH – The yin and yang of pain looks a lot like Manchester on a Tuesday night.

It begins with a peaceful candlelight vigil in one of the city’s most beautiful parks – Stark Park – steeped in the history of American Revolutionary hero General John Stark, New Hampshire’s native son who famously uttered the words, “Live free or die. Death is not the greatest of evils.”

They are words we cling to, even now.

And it ended with protests that devolved into a mob scene, as people dispersed from the park. They were advised to “go home” by organizers. But those who didn’t go home fueled the scenario everyone feared.

Police form a line along Elm Street Tuesday night. Photo/Jeffrey Hastings

Factions found their way to South Willow Street and the south end of Elm where Manchester Police, fortified by State Police troopers and National Guardsmen, had been waiting for most of the evening. They were on high alert after a social media post calling for violence lled to the arrest of a young man from Ashland, who told police his Facebook post calling for a revolution of destruction was “just a joke.”

But the city took heed.

A Market sends a message of solidarity after boarding up its windows Tuesday afternoon. Photo/Jeffrey Hastings

Merchants along South Willow Street boarded their windows and abandoned shop early, fearing the worst based on violent protests that have peppered the U.S. map and erupted around the world ever since the scene played out in Minneapolis, Minnesota, on May 25. Captured on video, human beings connected via the Internet watched in horror as George Floyd, a black man in police custody, handcuffed and prone, was rendered lifeless at the hands of a uniformed officer of the law.

Or peace officers, as they once were known.

Since then there has been a unified voice rising from cities and towns, countries and enclaves around the globe. The outcry is for justice, equality, an end to brutality and excessive force by an increasingly militarized police force, too often against people of color.

Like all relationships, it’s complicated.

An armed citizen in a Hawaiian shirt among the protesters. Photo/Jeffrey Hastings

And yet, it is simple – Earth is not a peaceful planet. Somewhere tonight there is war. Somewhere tomorrow there will be arrests without probable cause. This day and the next day, and too many yesterdays to count we are a human race that can’t come to terms with our differences and find a way to live peacefully.

By midnight police were trying to maintain order on South Willow Street. Protesters populated the four corners of South Willow Street at the Taco Bell/Dunkin Donuts intersection. There were uniformed officers and there were armed citizens, all exercising their Second Amendment rights – some who said they were there to protect the protesters from violence; others who said they were there to protect the property of others.

By 1 a.m. Manchester Police issued the following message via Twitter:

The MPD would like to thank the hundreds of people who came out tonight for a peaceful demonstration at Stark Park. A smaller group broke off after the vigil to march and protest and at this hour they remain. We ask that the group please disperse. The peaceful protest has ended.

And so it had. A beautiful, peaceful moment of unity at Stark Park, coordinated by a group of young people from Manchester – sons and daughters of your neighbors and friends representing generations of people of color who have endured centuries of overcoming barriers and hurdles a colonized, predominantly white America has presented them with, was over.

People were arrested. Dumpster fires were extinguished. By 2 a.m. the crowd was gone.

If you are angry about the senseless destruction of property, the disruption, the chaos, don’t point fingers. Don’t lay blame.

This is a volcanic eruption of humanity.

A scientist would tell you that volcanos erupt when magma rises to the surface as the earth’s mantle melts. There’s no escape for the toxins that bubble up, so the pressure rises and pushes the boiling magma to the surface, resulting in an explosion that is dangerous and destructive.

As analogies go, you don’t have to be a geologist – or a genius – to see the correlation.

We have tried to contain the molten mix of emotion rising up, but it has erupted. It is changing the landscape. The magma will cool down, in time. But we will be left here on planet Earth to live with it, to confront the changes in our world as we knew it. We must consider how we rebuild, and most of all, how we address all that has risen to the surface – the anger, the pain, the injustice  – in such a way that there are vent holes and creative, corrective solutions.

We must face the imperfection of our humanity and be willing to not only heal, but create a world of understanding where we don’t cause more wounds.

Publisher’s Note: A paragraph has been edited to clarify the presence throughout the evening of a small number of armed citizens.


About this Author

Carol Robidoux

PublisherManchester Ink Link

Longtime NH journalist and publisher of ManchesterInkLink.com. Loves R&B, German beer, and the Queen City!