Salisbury-Based Protest Carried Out In Peace

SALISBURY — Despite a few jittery moments when Salisbury officials on Wednesday afternoon were not certain what a planned protest later that evening would bring, the so-called “Die In” in the downtown area on Wednesday night was peaceful and calm and could lead to some inroads to some of the same problems plaguing Baltimore this week.

Early Wednesday morning, Salisbury officials were alerted to a planned protest set for the downtown plaza area later that evening. Called the Downtown Salisbury Die-In and Justice Vigil, a flyer circulated at Salisbury University, UMES and throughout the city encouraged protestors rally in the downtown area to “stand, sing, and die (lay down) in unity with Baltimore’s struggle and connect with your community in peaceful, free-form expression.”

News of the protest set in motion a planned response from Salisbury officials, including reaching out to and inviting the protestors to peacefully assemble and voice their concerns while preparing for the worst case scenario if the event turned that way. However, the event on Wednesday night, moved to the plaza in front of the Government Office Building, was peaceful and calm with about 100 protestors lying down on the plaza in a sign of unity with the ongoing struggle in Baltimore.

Protestors interacted with government officials, law enforcement officials, church and school leaders and others to begin a dialogue on how Salisbury can address some of the same issues peacefully and with real progress. After about two hours of song-singing, prayers and open discussion, the event ended and the protestors went home, presumably with a better relationship with their elected leaders and police.

For a while on Wednesday, however, Salisbury officials were planning for the best and bracing for the worst. During a press conference in advance of the planned protest on Wednesday night, Mayor Jim Ireton expressed his dedication to the protection of free speech and peaceable assembly, but noted the importance of preparedness, especially in light of the events of the past week.

“The city does not see this event as a threat and we attempting to work with organizers to move the protest to the steps of the Government Office Building,” Ireton said on Wednesday afternoon. “Given the events that have encapsulated our state over the past two days, the city is inclined to prepare for this event. Our respect for the right to peacefully assemble must be balanced with our charge to protect the health, safety and welfare of people and property.”

Ireton said he and Salisbury Police Chief Barbara Duncan had been on the phone with law enforcement at all levels and local and state leaders including the governor’s office throughout Wednesday after learning of the planned protest. He said after consulting with the various stakeholders decided to set in motion the city’s protocols, including setting Salisbury’s Continuance of Government Operations at Level 2, considered a watch.

“A watch is a notification to all city departments for preparation for an event,” he said. “The city has notified businesses and residents in the downtown area of the event. Though we are not under a state of emergency, the city suggests that businesses that typically close in the late afternoon stay closed until tomorrow [Thursday] morning and we are suggesting that businesses located in the downtown area outside of regular business hours consider closing this evening and reopening tomorrow. Downtown residents are asked that when they arrive home this evening, they remain at home.”

Ireton and Duncan said on Wednesday afternoon they were not certain who specifically organized the protest and “Die In,” although they had received intelligence from local law enforcement, SU and UMES. A similar protest was held near UMES on Tuesday afternoon without any major incidents.