December 5, 2021

‘With anger in my heart, but hope for change’

George Floyd protest draws 300 in Cortland

Travis Dunn/staff reporter

Peaceful protesters honor the memory of Minneapolis man George Floyd during Monday’s demonstration in Courthouse Park in Cortland. Floyd died May 25 at the hands of Minneapolis police.

Editor’s note: This report has been updated to correct the name of the pastor of God’s Lighthouse of Praise Church.

About 300 people turned out Monday afternoon for a protest in Courthouse Park held in solidarity with similar actions worldwide to challenge police brutality and honor George Floyd, the Minneapolis man who died May 25 at the hands of police.

The demonstration drew a larger crowd than organizer Imani Ruffin anticipated.

“I thought it was only going to be a few people out here with me — like 10 or 20. But then overnight, it was like — boom,” said Ruffin, who advertised the gathering through the Black Lives Matter Cortland Facebook page on Saturday.

The crowd cheered briefly when organizers entered the park arm-in-arm with Cortland police. And they took a knee to honor Floyd.

“I hope that this organization can build up in the community and do different events for awareness and just keep the positivity, so that we can learn to unify,” she said.

“When I saw the video of George Floyd, I couldn’t help but picture myself there, or my brother, or my friends…” said Caleb Wright, one of the speakers. “So I stand here today with a lot of anger in my heart but with hope for change in some sort of way.”

The protest brought out four generations of Julie Sinser’s family — her mother as well as her daughter and her 10-month-old grandson.

“We’re just here to support everybody,” said her daughter, Nina Taibi.

Joshua Wright of Cortland also attended the protest with several family members — his two brothers, including Caleb, one of the speakers, and his father, the Rev. Nathaniel Wright of the God’s Lighthouse of Praise Church at 98 Port Watson St., Cortland.

“Honestly, I’m surprised at the amount of people who came out,” he said. “Let’s see if they actually follow through.”

Mayor Brian Tobin and the members of the Cortland Police Department also attended to show support for the protesters.

“If we want change, we have to be a part of that change,” said Tobin, who reminded protesters to wear masks and maintain social distance.

“Government works for the people, and part of it is listening,” he said. “That’s why I’m here. I wanted to help empower Imani. I want to help empower everybody here, because together we are strong. And we’re seeing what happens when we’re divided on the national level. It doesn’t work well. We need to be strong, we need to be together, we need to listen.”

Todd R. McAdam/managing editor

Cortland police Chaplain Matthew Smith, pastor of Faith Baptist Church, speaks to those gathered at the demonstration in Cortland.

 

After first gathering in the park at 3 p.m., protesters marched through, around and then past the park, heading toward Port Watson Street.

As protesters crossed the intersection, a red pickup truck pulling a livestock trailer made a sharp turn that brought the trailer threateningly close to several people, including a 6-year-old girl, witnesses said.

One of the protesters then sprinted after the truck and caught up with it at the traffic light at Court Street.

The protester — a young white woman who would only identify herself as Alyssa pounded on the truck’s passenger side window and screamed at the driver, who jumped out of the truck and began yelling back.

Deputy Chief Paul Sandy of the Cortland Police Department immediately intervened, ordering the man to move his truck, which was now blocking traffic.

The man continued to yell and demand that police arrest the protester, but he got back in the truck and left as ordered by police.

“I defused it,” Sandy said. “The best thing to do is send them in different directions.”

The march continued across the city’s south side, returning downtown via Tompkins Street, then down Main Street, lasting a bit more than 90 minutes.