Jonah Wheeler, 17, of Peterborough talks about racism in ConVal High School during a “Defund the Police” rally in Peterborough Saturday. Photo by MEGHAN PIERCE

By MEGHAN PIERCE

A group of current and former ConVal High School students led a rally calling to “Defund the Police” on the steps of the Peterborough Town House Saturday afternoon.

“Just holding signs is not enough. We need to take definitive action as a community,” former ConVal High School student Anna McGuiness said to the crowd. 

McGuiness, a Hancock resident, said she has been hearing a lot from the community since she started organizing the event. 

“People say things to me like, ‘Peterborough is not Minneapolis. Things are different here. We are not as racist. Our police are not as corrupt. Peterborough is different.’ This exceptionalism is built on two assumptions,” McGuiness said. “The assumption that policing itself is not inherently racist and violent. And that Peterborough is not still a very racist town.”

Anna McGuiness, a 2019 ConVal High School graduate, leads a “Defund the Police” rally on the steps of the Peterborough town House Saturday. Photo by MEGHAN PIERCE

McGuiness said while the town of Peterborough seems progressive, young people of color and in the LGBTQ community are having a different experience. 

“While walking through Peterborough you will see rainbow flags, Obama signs in yards, ‘Hate has no Home Here’ posters. But the same kids that are raised in those houses would take the bus to ConVal High School every day and make life hell for LGBTQ kids and kids of color. Black, brown, queer, LGBTQ-plus kids are terrorized every day at ConVal High School. It is a cruel existence to be a minority at ConVal. There, kids are criminalized, under-resourced, and struggling. Know that when you pretend that Peterborough is so progressive, claim to have taught your children better. When you say that it doesn’t happen here you are fooling yourself. You are lying and you are covering up years of violence in that high school, on these streets, in your home. 

McGuiness said New Hampshire does not have a slavery-free legacy.

“New Hampshire is not 99.2 percent white by accident. Portsmouth was a slave port and now it’s a slave burial ground. You can visit it. I recommend you do,” McGuiness said. “New Hampshire has spent its history redlining and gerrymandering to keep itself white. We don’t know its history because we erase it. We say, ‘Oh it’s so far north it didn’t happen here.’ It did. It does. It will.”

McGuiness also called out residents and police departments in the ConVal School District for not doing more. It is not enough to stand on the side of the road and hold signs, she said. 

“Peterborough you are watching the world burn from a very privileged position. Low crime, extreme safety, you could be the blueprint for police abolition in America if you are brave enough,” she said, adding the other ConVal towns to that. “Today I am asking you to make this a town in which I am proud to come home to.”

Current and former ConVal High School students lead a rally calling to “Defund the Police” on the steps of the Peterborough Town House Saturday afternoon. Photo by MEGHAN PIERCE

Current ConVal student Jonah Wheeler, 17, of Peterborough also spoke.

“As one of the few people of color in town, I can tell you with the utmost certainty that racism does exist here,” Wheeler said. “There are so many racist people in town that let their racism go unsaid and it doesn’t get addressed.” 

Wheeler said it’s time to ask the budget committee in town to move money from the police budget and into mental health services, housing and a restructuring of the education system that would break the cycle of poverty. 

“Anyone that is against this reallocation of funds has to ask himself why do the Peterborough Police Department have riot gear and a whole host of other militarized equipment for a town that has very little violent crime,” Wheeler said. “We live in a town run by and for affluent people. And if the elected officials put in those roles to maintain it won’t do what we demand, we will run for office and do it ourselves.”

Wheeler encouraged people to educate themselves on racism and town policies.

While some motorists passing on Grove Street in front of the Town House showed their support for the protest with honks some — including a pickup truck and motorcycle — revved their engines, drowning out the speeches as they drove by. 

Lauren Graham, 12, of Peterborough holds a counter-protest to the “Defend the Police” rally across the street from the Peterborough Town House Saturday afternoon. Photo by MEGHAN PIERCE

Lauren Graham, 12, of Peterborough held her own counter-protest to the rally. She and her dad, Jim Graham, sat in the back of a pickup truck across the street with a “Support Peterborough Police” sign on the back of it.

“I think the world without the police would be crazy. And I think without anybody enforcing our laws they are just going to go unenforced and it’s going to be chaos,” she said.

Graham added that she supports the protester’s right to hold the rally and to their beliefs. 

“People have the right to believe what they believe. … We would die for that. Even if we don’t agree with that, we would die for their right to protest,” she said. 

McGuiness ended the protest telling people to tune into the town’s listening session on Tuesday that is to address calls from residents to defund the police.