POTTSTOWN — As protests over the death of George Floyd while in the custody of Minneapolis Police turned violent across the nation, a small protest here was peaceful and welcomed police involvement.

"We started it kind of on an impulse," said Troy Rivera, 22, who organized the event with friend Nate Smith.

"There were a lot of people on Facebook saying Pottstown could not have a peaceful protest, so we decided to prove them wrong," said Rivera.

Marchers began at High and Manatawny streets and made their way east down High Street, carrying signs and chanting. 

Signs carried by the protesters read "Black Lives Matter," "Arrest all 4," "End Police Brutality," "White Silence is Violence" and "I have 3 black sons. I can't stay silent."

There were rumors, also on social media, that "outsiders were coming to town to make trouble," Johnny Corson, president of the Pottstown chapter of the NAACP, told The Mercury on Monday.

But when he arrived with Emanuel Wilkerson at the march already in progress, Wilkerson introduced him to Rivera and Corson said he realized the exact opposite was happening. "I had to apologize right there," he said.

Rivera "did an excellent job, he had people making sure no one was being disruptive or was walking in the street. One woman, I didn't catch her name, told everyone that they had friends and family who own businesses in town who are worried about what might happen, 'but that's not why we're here. That's not what we're about,' she told them," said Corson.

"So I called the chief and said we would like the police to join us," Corson said.

Shortly thereafter, four officers arrived as the march reached Evans Street "and as they got out of their cars, people started clapping, and that changed the whole tone. They walked with us, mingled with the protesters, directed traffic and protected the protesters," said Corson.

The police walked along with protesters as they made their way north up Washington Street, west on Beech Street and then back down Hanover Street to borough hall, Rivera said.

Also present were Bishop Michael Anthony of Heart of God Worship Center, the Rev. Justin Valentine, pastor of Kingdom Life Church, and the Rev. Darrell Brown, a Pottstown native and pastor of New Hope Baptist Church in Paoli, said Corson.

"As we walked through the neighborhoods, people came out and applauded. They were calling people out from their porches to join us. People in cars were slowing down and shaking their hands and thanking them for marching," Corson said. 

"We had a beautiful peaceful protest that was joined with our amazing police department," Joe Yergey posted on the Eye on Pottstown Facebook page, which is were Rivera first announced his intention to organize the march.

"We are truly blessed to have such a diverse and caring community with some of the fairest, kindest and very caring community servants such as our PD, FD and EMS. So here's to you Pottstown," Yergey posted.

When the march arrived back at borough hall, "the officers were asked to take a knee with us," a symbol of peaceful protesting of police violence first made famous by former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick.

And Cpl. Mike Long did just that.

"When that happened, that was powerful," Corson said.

Pottstown Police Chief Michael Markovich, who spoke with some of the protesters, said the officers "went out to be part of their protest."

He told The Mercury Monday that "we stand with them and support them. I also thank them for including us and allowing us to be part of their event."

To reinforce the message, the department's Facebook page posted: "We would like to thank the Pottstown community, Johnny Corson and the Pottstown Chapter of the NAACP, and all of the pastors and other community leaders who came out to participate in the protest/march in Pottstown yesterday. Your message was loud and clear and we support you. Criminal activity in policing cannot be tolerated. Thank you for allowing us to participate in the event and for including the Pottstown Police Department as part of the Pottstown community. We are here to serve you and we are proud to be part of Pottstown."

The Pottstown chapter of the NAACP posted a similar message on that group's Facebook page: "On behalf of President Corson, we are thankful for the amazing Pottstown community who came together for a peaceful march, uniting in the name of justice. Thank you to our Pottstown Clergy, the Pottstown Police for answering the call from Pres. Corson to participate. Thank you to Troy R., the young man who organized the protest."

Rivera, a 2016 graduate of Pottstown High School who now runs a home improvement business and is a day care teacher at the YWCA Tri-County Area, seemed a little surprised at the breadth of the reaction to his event.

"The only thing I've ever organized before was a snowball fight," he said with a laugh.

But success is a good motivator and Rivera said he and Corson are now discussing another event to try to promote unity and non-violence.

Rivera has already set another march and protest for Sunday at 4 p.m. He is asking those who wish to participate peacefully to meet at High and Manatawny streets.

"A few years ago we did a unity pledge and had people sign it and I think maybe we might do that again," said Corson. He also said he would like to see "all the police chiefs and the district attorney in Montgomery County" sign a statement decrying police violence.

On Saturday, the Police Chiefs' Association of Montgomery County did post a statement on its Facebook page about Floyd's death and its ramifications.

"The Police Chiefs’ Association of Montgomery County would like to express our heartfelt sympathies to the family of Mr. George Floyd. Just like each of you, we witnessed the video of Mr. Floyd’s death and were appalled by what we saw. Police brutality, callousness, and failure to render aid are unacceptable in Montgomery County Law Enforcement," the statement read.

"While some may look at this video and believe that nothing has changed in policing, much has changed in Montgomery County. Over the past several years our police departments have gone to great lengths to engage with the communities we serve. These engagements are not merely public relations events, but meaningful and productive dialog with community members, community leaders, clergy and groups dealing with different forms of racial injustice," the statement read.

"We have also taken a strong stand against inappropriate conduct committed by officers and have made the sanctity of human life a guiding principle in our agencies," according to the statement.

"As an association, we join with you in your disgust of what you saw in that video, but we ask you to not let this incident destroy the progress that we have made here in Montgomery County. We ask you to keep working with us to keep injustice and violence from our county," the chiefs wrote. "As we all mourn the loss of Mr. Floyd, let us come together and continue to communicate so that we can keep fighting against racial injustice and make Montgomery County safe for all persons."

In the meantime, if social media is any indication, people are taking a moment to take pride in how Pottstown gave voice to the strong emotions these issues generate, emotions that have spilled over into violence in other cities across the country.

"People say we can't do a peaceful protest in Pottstown, but I am so proud of how this town proved those naysayers wrong," Corson said.

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