Hundreds march through Onset, Wareham for justice

Jun 7, 2020

Hundreds of protesters converged on the Wareham Police Station Saturday evening at the conclusion of two separate peaceful marches organized in support of the Black Lives Matter movement.

One group made the 4-1/2-mile trek from Onset Pier, merging in Besse Park with a larger group that had gathered there – arriving on foot, in cars and even in canoes and kayaks.

Signs, chants and speeches called for racial justice and an end to police violence against black people. 

Boarded up storefronts and a noticeable on-site police presence were evidence of apprehension that the protest would involve thousands of out-of-towners and violence. 

But the energetic group was anything but violent. Black, white, young, old and in-between, the protesters created an atmosphere that at times felt like a block party, never a riot

The closest the group came to confrontation was at the police station when Chief John Walcek refused the group’s demand to “take a knee” in honor of George Floyd, the black man who died after a white Minneapolis police officer pressed his knee onto Floyd’s neck for more than eight minutes. Caught on bystanders’ video, the killing sparked what are now nearly two weeks of protests across the country and around the world.

After nearly 30 tense minutes and Walcek’s explanation that, as a Catholic, he only kneels in church, several other Wareham officers took a knee. 

Protesters took a final knee -- this time for eight minutes and 46 seconds, the time that Minneapolis Police Officer Derek Chauvin kneeled on Floyd’s neck. They then dispersed.

Protesters said they attended the march to show unity, demonstrate that protests could be peaceful, and to fight for justice. 

It is unclear what prompted merchants’ apprehension and the heavy police presence.

Several Facebook posts had surfaced in the past week about 5,000 to 7,000 out-of-town people planning to stage the Wareham March. Walcek and other officers would not say whether they had additional information in advance of the march. But they did warn some commercial property owners and call in outside police and what appeared to be National Guard members to stand ready off-site in town.

The march followed six peaceful local protests: in Onset and Mattapoisett on Friday, in Bourne on Thursday, in Wareham and Marion on Tuesday and in Bourne last weekend.