OLEAN, NY — Demonstrators gathered on the fringes of Lincoln Park between 6:30 and 8:30 Saturday evening to protest police brutality against people of color and to lobby for social justice.
Approximately 20 protesters, coming and going over the two-hour period, displayed signs hand lettered with slogans such as “Justice for Jacob” and “Black Lives Matter” to drivers and passengers coming through the roundabout at East State and South Union streets.
Lincoln Park has been the site of a few Black Lives Matter rallies since the end of May; one rally was held in Franchot Park in June. Saturday's came in the wake of police shooting and injuring 29-year-old Jacob Blake in Kenosha, Wisconsin.
A leader in the event, Olean Racial Justice Coalition administrator Taha Pascucci explained, “And we are here because we want social justice and equality here in Olean and to give back to the community, and we have got a lot of people here to show support.”
Pascucci, who is 23, said that the demonstrators, who were from Olean, Ellicottville, Allegany and parts of southern New York and northern Pennsylvania, heard and saw a mixture of positive and negative responses from drivers and passengers who yelled phrases such as “cops lives matter too” and “all lives matter.”
“There have been a lot of people that have shown support just by giving a thumbs up, giving a peace sign and then beeping,” Pascucci said. “And there have also been a lot of people flicking us off and telling us to get jobs, calling us tools, calling us the A-word, and it is hard to say if we are getting more support or not.”
McKean County Democrats member Jenna Green explained why she attended. “We came out because we just want to spread love and acceptance, and we want everyone to know they are okay, and they matter,” she said.
Pascucci said the age of attendees at the rally ranged from approximately 16 to 60 and that was important because most are eligible to vote in the upcoming election.
“We are really trying to appeal to the age groups of 18 to 30,” Pascucci added. "These are the people that are going vote for our new elected officials and be our new elected officials, pushing and voting for change. But obviously, we want to appeal to everyone old and young.”
An unplanned appearance was made by St. Bonaventure University Women’s Basketball Assistant Coach Ryan Phillips, who passed by the rally, pulled over and joined.
“I was driving by getting dinner,” Phillips explained. “And I have been protesting in other places, and I decided this is more important than eating and decided to come over here and join.”
Phillips said after attending protests throughout the area, he has set a goal of having his team get involved in the marches and protests for social justice.
“It has been a mixed bag out here, and obviously, you have supporters and those who are still trying to figure out what their feelings are,” Phillips said. “But overall, I am hoping to get our team involved at St. Bonaventure.”
For Pascucci and the coalition, the work does not stop with a Saturday night demonstration. They have several short-term and long-term goals, nationally and locally.
“We want to make a difference here, and outside of Olean, as well," Pascucci said. "Our main long-term goals are for social justice and to be able to be a resource to the community and also a support system for people of color and minorities here in Olean. We just have so many other goals that it is difficult to stick to one long-term vision.”
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