Middletown civic and elected leaders vowed Saturday morning the city will be an example for the world in the fight for racial equality.
A few hundred people gathered at the Middletown transition station on South Broad Street to march a half-mile to the Middletown City Hall at One Donham Plaza where church, community and elected leaders laid out their vision of hope. Saturday’s Middletown United For Change 2020 march was organized by around two dozen community organizations, including the Middletown chapter of the NAACP, the Middletown city government and school district, and several community churches.
“I can assure you, as long as I’m chief, we’re going to have effective change in this community, and it starts now,” said Middletown Division of Police Chief David Birk.
The chief started his remarks with a moment of silence for George Floyd and his family. Floyd, of Minneapolis, died after an officer held his knee on his neck for nearly nine minutes as he told officers he couldn’t breathe. His death sparked protests around the country demanding an end to systemic racism.
Birk condemned the actions, and inactions, of those four Minnesota police officers, who now face criminal charges.
“None of the officers here (in Middletown) condone any of the actions that happened in Minneapolis,” the chief said. “We don’t train like that, and we will not train like that.”
Speakers at the event following the morning march told the crowd it’s time for action, and to be the change in the community.
“As citizens of Middletown, we need our community leaders, police and city officials to work together,” said William Ford, president of the Middletown NAACP. “We need to work on police action and local legislation to make sure all people, all people, all people, all people are treated fairly.”
Birk responded to calls from Ford and others for transparency within the police department. “I don’t want the police department to hide anything,” he said.
Ahead of the march, Celeste Davis, the First Vice President for the Middletown NAACP, rallied the crowd together to prepare for the half-mile march from the transit station to city hall. The program will not be long “because it’s time to stop talking and start doing,” Davis said. She and others pushed people to be active change agents in the community, register to vote and take part in the census “because if we keep talking we’ll be here, it will be 2021 and we’ll be talking about what happened and why is it still the same.”
“We believe in action. We believe in community engagement. It takes us. We can’t leave all the work to the elected officials, the pastors or the other people. This needs 100 percent participation. There is something each of us can do.”
Middletown Mayor Nicole Condrey said the world looks to America for answers and leadership, and she wants the country and the world to look to Middletown because “this is unity. This is unity in the face of tragedy.”
She also called communication “the key” to being an effective community, and emphasized listening as part of it. However, she warned that “too many people listen with the intent to reply.”
“Let’s listen with the intent to understand,” she said. “Let’s walk that mile in our neighbor’s shoes.”
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