HONESDALE, PA — Three young Honesdale residents, Olivia Galarza, Aleah Slish and Amanda DeMasi, recently scheduled a peaceful protest in Honesdale’s central park, following a nationwide …
HONESDALE, PA — Three young Honesdale residents, Olivia Galarza, Aleah Slish and Amanda DeMasi, recently scheduled a peaceful protest in Honesdale’s central park, following a nationwide trend in response to the killing of George Floyd, an unarmed black man who was killed by a white police officer. On the eve of the protest, however, Galarza posted on Facebook that the event had been canceled due to “threats from local community members as well as outside groups.”
Slish said that after first announcing the protest online, they had seen numerous posts from local residents threatening to bring firearms to the event.
“This was expected,” Slish said, though she called the idea of people bringing firearms “disconcerting.”
“Then we were informed from several different sources about outside organizations from different areas coming into the protest looking to use the protest as a way to incite violence,” she said. Slish said she did not want to release the names of these alleged groups.
DeMasi said that the PA State Police informed the organizers about “rumors of Antifa groups bringing in buses to try and start rioting.” Antifa—short for antifascist—refers to a “loose collection of groups, networks and individuals who believe in active, aggressive opposition to far right-wing movements.”
The organizers had been in “close contact” with police throughout the planning of the protest. Slish said that Chief Richard Southerton told her that he preferred that police not be present at the march since the department only has a handful of officers.
“Once we were told by the chief of police that he would not be able to do anything at the protest until violence came about, we knew that we didn’t have the backbone within the community… to really provide good security in this event,” Slish said.
Southerton said that he had other reasoning for not bringing officers to the protest unless necessary.
"If we showed up over there in uniform, people would take it as we're trying to stop the event or trying to influence the event," he said. "We're not going to be over there unless there's an incident, and then we're going to respond to it."
Southerton also said he's asking residents to contact the department about any realistic threats regarding the protest. Like many, he said that he's heard rumors, but no "credible information."
"I can't go out and basically do something about somebody who posts something to Facebook saying that they don't agree with what's going on, or that they do agree with what's going on," he said.
The department's phone number is (570) 253-1900.
Given the risk, Slish and Galarza chose to cancel the protest; DeMasi disagreed with the decision and decided to organize one of her own, at the intended place and time of the original—Thursday, June 4 at 4 p.m. in Honesdale’s central park.
“I feel it was a terrible idea to cancel this event,” she said.
DeMasi said that unlike the original protest which included a march, the new event will stay centralized within the park, featuring speakers and musicians. There will also be a minute of silence to acknowledge the people of color who have lost their lives to police brutality and systemic racism, she said.
A Facebook event was quickly created for the new protest, and more than 400 people have marked themselves as “going” or “interested.”
DeMasi encouraged everybody who plans on attending the protest to clean up after themselves and “not to engage hate."
Slish said that she and Galarza are planning on organizing other events in the future, “once they are better planned out.
“We still fully support the movement, we don’t want to give off the idea that we’re backing away from the situation, we just want to plan something out better.”
Editor's note: This story has been updated to reflect comments from the chief of police.