Ralliers for racial and social justice have gathered on Elm Street — daily for several months last summer and fall — in numbers ranging from a dozen people to more than 800. On other cold winter evenings, a lone advocate held a sign to passing cars.
Jennifer M. Baxtron founded the village’s BLM movement, Black Lives Matter Potsdam, last year after the May 25 murder of George P. Floyd in Minneapolis. She ushered Tuesday’s marchers west on Elm Street and north on Market Street to the corner of May Road, and back again.
“We need to be loud, as loud as possible,” Ms. Baxtron told the group as they departed for the two-mile demonstration at about 6:45 p.m. “They need to hear us. We need to be seen.”
Simply put, Ms. Baxtron said, BLM is about confronting injustice. In the north country, racial injustice doesn’t usually look like national broadcasts of public police brutality, she said. Injustice in Potsdam and St. Lawrence County, she continued, is embedded in law enforcement and court operations.
Reconvening in front of the post office, the group lit candles in memory of Mr. Floyd and in tribute to local losses. With local BLM participation gradually fading over the last year, Ms. Baxtron said her fight continues:
For Treyanna N. Summerville, the Black 18-year-old from Gouverneur whose June 2020 death is the center of a county homicide investigation. For Garrett J. Phillips, the white 12-year-old strangled to death in 2011. Nearly 10 years later, no one has been convicted of his murder. For Terron Evans Jr., Ms. Baxtron’s 26-year-old son who died in January. She said she’s still searching for answers about the manner in which he died.
“I’m angry, I’m really angry,” Ms. Baxtron said. “I had high hopes that things would change here, for the better, for Black lives. I thought more people would help to make that happen.”
Under Executive Order 203, called the New York State Police Reform and Reinvention Collaborative, law enforcement policy evaluations were expected to be based on 10 police reform laws as part of the state’s “Say Their Name” reform agenda laid out by Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo after Mr. Floyd’s murder.
The order mandated law enforcement agencies and overseeing municipalities develop reform plans by April 1, to be eligible for continued state funding.
Emails and letters to local and state representatives about police reform, specific cases and general accountability have been ignored, Ms. Baxtron added.
“This is not a joke,” she said.
Yengi R. Lado, a 24-year-old automotive mechanic and Potsdam native, stood with Ms. Baxtron on Tuesday.
“The people who don’t see that racism is a systemic problem aren’t seeing their role in the system,” he said. “If people could see how their actions are part of the system, I think they would sing a different tune.”
Reflecting on Potsdam’s capacity to change, Mr. Lado said he’s “definitely hopeful.”
“But truth be told,” he said, “I’m not sure if that’s just what I need to feel to get through, or if it’s a real reflection of where I’m at.”
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