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Peaceful Protest Draws Large Crowd
Written by Bradley Schlegel, Staff Writer
Protesters line up on the corner of Main St. and Pottstown Ave. in Pennsburg.


            When Elizabeth Pierson and Jackson Gray informed the Upper Perk Police Department of their plan to host a peaceful gathering protesting racially charged brutality against African-Americans, they had no idea how many people would show.

            When the number of people indicating a desire to attend reached 200, the organizers were in shock, according to Pierson. She said the total attendance for last week's Upper Perkiomen United for Peace rally overwhelmed them. Pierson estimates that between 400 and 600 people filled the sidewalk on all four corners of Pennsburg's busiest intersection on June 4.

            "I'm thrilled that it brought the entire community together for a cause that is so important," said Pierson, an East Greenville resident.

            Between 5 and 5:30 p.m., crowds stretched along the sidewalk on all four corners at the intersection of Routes 663 and 29. Attempting to social distance, they chanted, kneeled and waved homemade signs promoting racial harmony and opposing police brutality. Pierson described the Upper Perkiomen Valley, a predominantly white, conservative small town, as an ideal location for a civil rights rally.

            "Our town really needed something like this," she said.

            Upper Perk Police Chief Joe Adam, Jr. described the protest as very well organized and peaceful. Though there were some agitators driving through the intersection, Adam said the attendees handled themselves responsibly.

"I believe the community was able to get out the message it was trying to accomplish," the chief said.

            Occasionally, the participants waved to drivers approaching the intersection, who reciprocated by honking their car horns and waving. Nearly all the participants wore masks due to the coronavirus pandemic. Most importantly, the rally had no incidents.

            "It was totally peaceful," said Pierson, a 2017 graduate of Upper Perkiomen High School. "We were afraid it could have turned into a riot."

            One protestor, Shayla, said the May 25 death of George Floyd in Minneapolis, MN brought her to the event. "The incident really moved me," she said, adding that she normally doesn't attend public protests.

            Mary Camuso, a Red Hill resident, came to the rally because she has grown tired of continuing to watch people of color struggled unnecessarily against social injustices.  "That needs to change," said Camuso, a sociology student at Swarthmore College, who was standing on the Dunkin' Donuts side of Route 663.

            At 5:15 p.m., Larry and Elaine Melcher – positioned in front of the Rite Aid store along Route 29 – kneeled with the rest of the crowd. They remained in that position for 8 minutes, 46 seconds, the amount of time a video – captured by a 17-year-old girl – shows an officer with his knee buried in Floyd's neck.

            "Seeing the officer bury his knee in George Floyd's neck was ridiculous," said Larry Melcher, a Pennsburg resident.

            Though the country has been dealing with the same issues for more than 50 years, he expressed hope that the voters will demand equality in November. "People are fed up with the White House fueling this racism," said Larry, a lifetime resident of the Valley.

            Elaine Melcher, who said she was prepared to drag a number of people she knows to the polling place during the general election, described the turnout as unexpectedly large. 

According to Pierson, the protest was intended to help her community rally round the idea of social justice and not drive opposition to President Trump.

            She said one of her best friends, who is pro-Trump, was "blown away" by the solidarity in the community.  "It's not about politics," Pierson said. "It's about loving the community and loving who lives here."

            Officers from 11 Montgomery County departments – from as far away as Upper Providence – were brought in to help deal with any potential issues, according to Adam. He said they participated at no cost to the borough through a mutual-aid agreement. However, Upper Perk officers accumulated approximately $1,500 in overtime costs, according to the chief.

            According to Pierson, Dunkin' Donuts donated donuts and water for the protest. She said Vince and Friends contributed pizza.

            Pierson said she and Gray – a 2019 graduate of Upper Perk – have already met their next goal of raising $3,000 in one day. She said they will use the donations to purchase culturally inclusive books to local schools, libraries and daycares. The duo has also started an Upper Perkiomen United for Peace Facebook page.






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