The black Honda sport utility vehicle southbound on South Main Street in Homer slowed down Saturday afternoon as it passed a dozen people holding signs reading “Black Lives Matter.”
The SUV’s horn beeped and a white man in the front passenger gave a thumbs up sign out his open window.
The group, which grew to about 40 people at one point, was quickly organized by word of mouth and through social media by Reed Cleland, a 2018 Homer High School graduate who will be a junior in the fall at Colgate College, majoring in theater and political science.
“This is very, very grass roots,” Cleland said of the rally from 1 to 4 p.m. along the Homer Village Green. He wanted to join the growing number of voices protesting the killing of George Floyd, an unarmed black may man who died after a Minneapolis police officer kneeled on his neck for about 10 minutes during an arrest earlier in the week. The officer has since been charged with murder.
Joseph Rahner, 20, of Homer, said he came to the rally after seeing it announced on social media and wanted to express his concerns about Floyd’s death.
“I saw an Instagram post from my friend, Reed,” Rahner said. “I saw the video. It is something I wanted to do something about. … I think what they did was wrong.”
Nina Armideo, 20, of Homer said the death of Floyd affected her deeply. “Saddened, enraged. A lot of emotions. I was saddened,” she said. “I was glad that a select group of us will have an effect. I want to do my part to educate and protest.”
“The specific incident has been sort of a last straw,” she added. “But there are always a lot of last straws. I hope with time things will change structurally.”
The Rev. Gary Smith, an associate pastor at Homer Congregational Church and racial justice coordinator for the New York Conference of the United Church of Christ, held a black sign with white lettering that read “Black Lives Matter.”
“We need to end the plague of white supremacy in this nation and people need to learn the value of black and brown lives,” he said. “I am here because we should never hear the worlds ‘I can’t breathe’ from another human being, especially a black person, when my faith tells me that breath is a gift from God.”
Smith said he fears a race war could be touched off in response to Floyd’s death. He said white people do not understand the depth of pain.
Cleland said the response from passing vehicles had included beeping horns and revving motors, but it was not always possible to tell the motivation of the people.
As the rally wound down, a northbound blue pickup truck slowed down and a bearded white man pointed a finger at the group holding the “Black Lives Matter” signs.
“Damned right,” he yelled.