Hundreds of protesters who filled downtown Bowling Green on Sunday evening were met by peaceful and respectful law enforcement officers — hoping that the sign would be reciprocated.
An estimated 400-500 people, protesting the death of George Floyd in Minnesota last week at the hands of a police officer, chanted and demonstrated at the four corners, Wood County Courthouse and Wooster Green.
At the Bowling Green Police Division, on Wooster Street, they were met by several officials. BGPD Chief Tony Hetrick, Bowling Green Mayor Mike Aspacher, Wood County Sheriff Mark Wasylyshyn and Lt. Angel Burgos, commander of the Bowling Green post of the Ohio State Highway Patrol, all took a knee in front of the throng.
“It was the proper thing to do,” Aspacher said. “I’ve made clear from the beginning, with my conversations with the organizers and others involved that we share a great number of feelings.
“When I saw the events that occurred in Minnesota, like many, I was heartbroken. I was outraged, and I know that others share that feeling as well. It gives a black mark to law enforcement.”
Wasylyshyn said he welcomed the opportunity to walk with the rally participants.
“I was asked to come here to listen. I was asked by the organizer to march with him and to come and listen,” he said. “I appreciate the fears and concerns that some people in the community have — that’s something we all need to work on, to have it where people aren’t afraid of us.”
Sunday’s protest was mostly peaceful, which was what Aspacher expected.
“This is exactly what organizers were hoping it was going to be and, frankly, what we were hoping it was going to be — a peaceful protest,” Aspacher said. “When we met with the organizers yesterday, we expressed to them very clearly our desire to help them conduct a safe event. We expressed to them our support for their right to protest, we just wanted them to do it in a safe way.”
There was a skirmish in the beginning of the protest, around 6 p.m. in the Wooster and Main streets intersection.
A group of pedestrians tried to block the intersection and a sedan approached. Two protesters stood in front of the car and the driver revved the engine.
The pedestrians moved, the driver exited the car and words were exchanged before the driver got back in the car and sped off.
The group walked to the courthouse, spent about 10 minutes there, then came back downtown.
They paused in front of the police division, chanting for the officials to take a knee.
Several speakers addressed the crowd around Wooster Green, as protesters chanted “black lives matter” and “all lives matter.”
Katherine Pracht Phares, who recently moved to Bowling Green to get her doctorate at Bowling Green State University, said she was impressed with the turnout.
“I was hoping that something like this would happen and here it is, and it’s massive, compared to what I thought it was going to be,” Phares said. “I just want to be here in solidarity with my friends, with my community.”
It’s time for people to really hear what the protesters are saying, she said.
“We have to do something. We have to get up, take some action. I, as a white woman, need to close my mouth and listen,” Phares said.
Jonathan Foster, an 18-year-old Toledo School for the Arts student, was attending the rally with a Bowling Green friend.
He said signs like “silence is violence” tell a lot about this moment in time.
“We have to show that our white privilege is a thing and that we can make change together,” Foster said.
Protests have rocked the nation from coast to coast since Thursday. The Associated Press is reporting more than 1,400 arrests and countless vandalism and looting incidents, along with confrontations between protesters and law enforcement officers.
Floyd, a black man, died Monday as a white police officer pressed a knee on his neck. Floyd could be heard saying, “I can’t breathe.” The officer has been charged with murder.
Sentinel-Tribune multi-media journalist J.D. Pooley contributed to this story.