Town officials in Webster are standing in solidarity with their police chief as he responds to backlash for lying down at a protest Saturday demonstrating against the killing of George Floyd.
Police Chief Michael Shaw lied face down with his hands behind his back on the steps of his station for eight minutes, the length of time a Minneapolis police officer knelt on Floyd’s neck as he pleaded he couldn’t breathe, during the protest, the Worcester Telegram & Gazette reports.
— Ashley Green (@agreenphotog) June 6, 2020
In an interview with the protest’s organizers ahead of the event, Shaw called the killing of Floyd “disgusting” and “disturbing,” saying he believed the country was at a tipping point and that citizens needed to be educated about the problems of systemic racism.
“This is the first time that I can remember in my law enforcement career where you actually see police alongside the protesters, lockstep,” he said. “We’re in agreement. What happened was wrong. And yes, there’s a problem. Let’s fix it.”
In the days after the protest, photos of Shaw acting in solidarity with the protesters, who chanted “I can’t breathe” during the eight minutes he was on the ground, garnered national headlines and sparked backlash against the chief, the Telegram & Gazette reports.
On Monday, the chief released a letter to the community, along with several statements of support from Webster leaders.
Shaw wrote that his intention was to “explain his actions” following the attention on the protest and “contextually slanted versions” that had emerged.
The chief, who has been a police officer for 23 years, wrote that he has strived to lead the department in a “progressive, forward thinking manner”:
“Simply talking about certain injustices, versus taking peaceful action against them are two different things. Supporting peaceful protestors does not mean that I do not support Law Enforcement. I support both. I have supported Law Enforcement my entire life. I am a Police Officer and have been for 23 years. I am passionate about this profession. I am also passionate about the wonderfully diverse community of Webster that I am proud and fortunate enough to serve.”
Abigail Cooper, one of the three organizers of the protest, told the Telegram & Gazette that she didn’t understand the criticisms and backlash against the chief.
“There’s no reason to come at him,” the 15-year-old said. “He did a good thing.”
Shaw concluded his statement by saying he believed that “together, we can make the difference we all seem to be yearning for.”
“I think the key is that we listen to each other, don’t judge each other so harshly, and learn from each other — that is what I did at the protest,” he said. “It wasn’t a grand gesture to insult Law Enforcement. It wasn’t a global commentary on everything occurring. It was not intended to turn the conversation onto me. It was one man in a position to help promote change and to support, amongst others, three great young adults who are already becoming leaders in their own right.”
Read his full statement, and those from other town officials, below:
Get Boston.com’s e-mail alerts:
Sign up and receive coronavirus news and breaking updates, from our newsroom to your inbox.