Youth demonstrators organize peaceful march in downtown Stow

Protesters kneel in silence for eight minutes and forty-six seconds before the American flag at Stow City Hall. 

‘All lives can’t matter until Black Lives Matter.’ ‘Stand up for systematic injustice.’ ‘We all bleed red.’ ‘Hate has no home here.’ These were just some of the many messages etched on poster board and the sides of cardboard boxes as protesters marched to support the Black Lives Matter movement and to denounce systemic racism in law enforcement across the country in Stow, Wednesday afternoon.

The protest was organized by Kent State freshman integrated language arts major Dustin Hilton and recent Stow-Munroe Falls High School 2020 graduate Jane Freeman. Hilton, a resident of Stow, said he wants members of his hometown “to start participating more in events like this where they are helping fight for black lives.”

Members of the Stow community and the surrounding area met at Stow City Hall at 2 p.m. to begin the day’s protest, gathering over 200 participants. The demonstration began in front of city hall with an eight minute and 46-second moment of silence to commemorate the life of George Floyd, the amount of time he was unable to breathe as officer Derek Chauvin knelt on his neck during his arrest. Protesters positioned themselves around the American flag posted in front of city hall, with some raising their fists for the duration of the silence.

The protest then mobilized with a walk down Darrow road, with Hilton and Freeman leading the group. The demonstration marched along the sidewalk and turned right down Kent road, where Stow police officers helped block part of the road for protesters to occupy the street on their way to The Church in Silver Lake.

The group reached the church at 3 p.m. Supporters passed out water to protesters as they waited under shaded trees for the rest of the group to join them. Stow police also assisted in blocking traffic for protesters to cross the street safely. The protesters knelt again for another eight minutes and 46 seconds before marching back toward city hall. The protest ended around 4 p.m.

Kari Suhadolnik, president of Stow-Munroe Falls Democratic Club, and Ginger Bakos, a local pastor and former chair of the Northeast Ohio Women’s March, assisted Hilton and Freeman by acting as peace marshals to help keep the demonstration peaceful and non-disruptive. Bakos said she recruited around nine other community members to act as peace marshals for the protest, all of whom wore bright yellow vests and spread themselves amongst the crowd.

John Pribonic, the mayor of Stow, was also present alongside Stow police Lt. Ken Mifflin and Chief of Police Jeff Film to oversee the protest. Pribonic said the priority of the police department’s presence at the protest was to ensure people were allowed to express their opinions in a safe manner. Film said the department supports the protesters’ message, and the Stow police department already practices every proposed policy in the#8cantwait campaign, a project by Campaign Zero which advocates to decrease police brutality in departments across the country.

The entire protest remained peaceful throughout the afternoon and lasted around two hours. Similar protests have occurred throughout the local area, including Kent and Akron.

Contact Troy Pierson at [email protected]