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UPDATE: Taking a knee, and a stand, in Canandaigua

Michael Murphy
Protesters take a knee during a moment of silence outside the Canandaigua Police Department on Wednesday.

CANANDAIGUA — Dr. Sim Covington said it was important for him to address a crowd of several hundred people during a Black Lives Matters protest in downtown Canandaigua.

One, because Covington, who is chief diversity officer at Finger Lakes Community College, said “it’s important because the people who are getting killed look like me.”

“As an African American who lives in this community, I think that having a stance of unity is important to show symbolic leadership, and to show that these things are important all across America, including right here in Canandaigua,” Covington said.

The protest Wednesday afternoon was one of many held across the country in the last several days after the death of George Floyd, a black man who was pinned to the ground by a white police officer in Minnesota during an arrest and died.

The Canandaigua event was attended by young and old, current and former elected officials, civilians, and Canandaigua Police Chief Stephen Hedworth and Ontario County Sheriff Kevin Henderson, both of whom spoke to the crowd.

The protest — which included a march to the Canandaigua Police Department after the speeches in Commons Park — was a peaceful one, at times resembling more of an opportunity for friends and neighbors, most of whom wore face coverings, to see each other in public after months of coronavirus quarantine.

In fact, one young woman collapsed in the midst of what was to be nine guest speakers in all. Some in the crowd used the signs they carried to give her shade and fan her. Canandaigua Emergency Squad Chief Matt Sproul and the woman were given a round of applause as he escorted her out of the park for treatment.

Many of the speakers shared personal stories of their lives as black people, from prejudice to bullying to ignorance and worse. But, as one speaker said, having decency and respect for one another, no matter their color, is the ultimate goal of these protests.

Many in the crowd chanted the name “George Floyd” as a reminder of why they were here. They carried signs reading, “Silence is Betrayal,” “I Can’t Breathe,” “End Racism Now” and others.

Giving people from this community a chance to say their piece in a peaceful way to other members of the community is why the event was held, according to one of the organizers, Kida Rotter.

“It’s really important to have perspectives from people everywhere, especially in town,” said Rotter, who lives in Canandaigua. “The main goal is to come together as a community to try and push that out so that everyone, including people of color in a more rural area, feel safe — and heard.”

Totiana Patrick, who graduated from Canandaigua in 2017, was the first speaker — and yes, she was somewhat nervous, but not about sharing her beliefs and what she stands for, she said.

“You see everything going on in the streets today and there’s just no reason for it,” Patrick said. “I shouldn’t have to be here today, but unfortunately I am … so it needs to be addressed.”

Having the opportunity to attend was important to Heather Boorman and her mother, Jacqui, who traveled to the event from Honeoye. Too many times, people of color have been targeted for doing normal things that they do every day, Jacqui Boorman said.

“We can’t have peace as a society until everyone can have peace and everyone can trust that they’re safe when they walk out on the street,” Heather Boorman said.

Henderson said he, Hedworth and Geneva Police Chief Michael Passalaqua, who joined protesters in a march in Geneva earlier in the week, are not hiding from what happened in Minnesota.

“When this happened, we came out publicly and we said, ‘This is not who we are,’” Henderson told the crowd. “We are just as angry.”

And, he said, this is not the end.

“We promise, going into the future, we will have more dialogue and make sure this never happens in this county,” Henderson said. 

A mother and daughter from Honeoye are in Canandaigua for the Black Lives Matter protest.