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'Criminal justice is just one part': Friday protest in Wilmington draws large crowd despite rain

Protesters returned to the streets in Wilmington Friday in one of the larger demonstrations Delaware has seen since protests against police brutality and racial injustices began sweeping the nation in the wake of George Floyd’s death.

The demonstration started at Tubman-Garrett Park on the Wilmington Riverfront and snaked to the New Castle County Courthouse, where a peaceful crowd listened to and chanted along with speakers for more than an hour, despite a heavy downpour. 

The official event ended just before 7:30 p.m. “Get home, get home safe, and keep the conversation going,” the last speaker said.

A group of protesters continued after the initial event, first returning to the Riverfront, then, according to the News Journal, marching on to I-95 and ultimately to the Wilmington Police Station before dispersing around 10:30 p.m.

Black Mothers in Power, a Network Delaware campaign focused up to this point on black maternal health, was one of the groups organizing the official protest that ended before sundown. 

The group’s director of public relations Shamarla McCoy says they co-sponsored Friday’s protest to lift up the voices of black women — and honor Breonna Taylor, a black medical worker killed by police in Louisville, Kentucky. Taylor would have turned 27 years old Friday.

“We have not really addressed the pain that black mothers go through,” said McCoy during Friday’s protest. “We have to deal with our daughters, our sons, our husbands, wives, family members being killed by the police, being incarcerated. We are the backbone. We are in charge of holding down the family.”

Shamarla McCoy on the focus of Friday's protest

Speakers Friday included Keandra McDole, whose brother Jeremy McDole was shot and killed by several Wilmington police officers in 2015, and Jonda Brown, whose son Yahim Harris was shot by one of those same officers— Cpl. James MacColl— last year. 

“I just pray that we as a community keep our fight alive and keep showing up at these rallies, to let them know that we’re serious,” said Brown. “We’re not animals. We deserve to be treated with respect.”

McCoy says Friday’s protest was about many things. 

“Criminal justice is just one part,” she said. “People need jobs, people need healthcare. People need not to send their kids to schools that are failing them. There’s so many issues boiling up, that I don’t think the elected officials are ready for that conversation.”

Wilmington Mayor Mike Purzycki admitted he asked organizers to postpone Friday’s protest, saying he worried outsiders would attempt to disrupt it. Police blocked off many streets in the city Friday.

McCoy calls it “unfortunate” that government officials “don’t want to stand with” protesters. 

Purzycki was seen at Tubman-Garrett Park early in the protest. Gov. John Carney, Congresswoman Lisa Blunt Rochester, state Attorney General Kathy Jennings and several city councilmembers and state lawmakers also attended. 

Purzycki and Wilmington City Council President Hanifa Shabazz released a statement minutes before the protest was scheduled to start expressing support for “racial justice reforms.”

These include a review of the Wilmington Police Department’s use of force policies, sharing with residents “additional information” from the police department’s policy and procedures manual, and supporting efforts to create a “police review board.” The officials also committed to supporting the Wilmington Police Department in starting to use body cameras. Purzycki vowed to immediately make available $800,000 in City funds to match a federal grant the police department has applied for. Purzycki and Shabazz said if the grant is denied, as it was last year, they will find other funding for the body camera program.

Shamarla McCoy on the response of elected officials to the protests

“Elected officials are elected for a reason— they’re here for the people,” said McCoy. “They have some good intentions, some of them, but a lot of it is just to cool the fire.”

McCoy says she wants elected officials to hear more community members.

“There are community members that have been organizing, that have been begging for the state to hear them, but because they live in certain neighborhoods, because they have a certain income, because they did not have a certain education, they’re being silenced and ignored,” she said. “So we want to make sure that we’re united with the community, and that you can’t separate us.”


Sophia Schmidt is a Delaware native. She comes to Delaware Public Media from NPR’s Weekend Edition in Washington, DC, where she produced arts, politics, science and culture interviews. She previously wrote about education and environment for The Berkshire Eagle in Pittsfield, MA. She graduated from Williams College, where she studied environmental policy and biology, and covered environmental events and local renewable energy for the college paper.
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