Protests expand into suburbs
Demonstrators gather in Henrico, Ashland and Chesterfield
As Richmond marked its sixth day of demonstrations against police brutality that has roiled the nation, protests expanded into the city’s suburbs on Wednesday with marches, chants and prayers.
The names of Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor and George Floyd rang out on
Iron Bridge Road in Chesterfield County. Protesters from the Short Pump area shouted “Black Lives Matter” as they wound their way into the city limits. In Ashland, roughly 200 people knelt for 8 minutes and 46 seconds, the length of time Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin kept his knee on Floyd’s neck nine days earlier.
Demonstrators, many of whom were white, pointed to the slaying of Arbery in February while he was out jogging
and Floyd’s and Taylor’s deaths at the hands of police as proof that systems in place that disadvantage people of color should be reformed. Police leaders engaged with protesters across the region, condemning the recent slayings and pledging to engage in introspection about their own practices and policies.
The hope of change brought Lewis Yancey to a muggy parking lot near GNC in Willow Lawn, where he was supporting his daughter, Shannon Yancey, a 2019 Mills Godwin High School graduate.
They had made a sign that read “Black Lives Matter” and initially showed up to Short Pump Town Center, where protest organizers planned to begin a march. A change of plans led to a shorter rally, but that didn’t stop the father and daughter.
Shannon Yancey had already protested Floyd’s killing once this week.
“They’re standing up for the right thing,” her father said.
As the afternoon wore on, the crowd, which at first largely consisted of students from Godwin and Short Pump area residents, grew to more than 100 people. Chanting “I Can’t Breathe,” they made their way to the Robert E. Lee monument, the epicenter of the city’s activism since Floyd’s death.
To keep cool on what was the hottest day so far this year, marchers stopped for water breaks throughout the 3.1-mile walk — roughly a fifth of what it would have been had they walked from Short Pump.
Unmarked police vehicles followed protesters along Broad Street, but officers did not exit their cars. In the early stages of the departure from Willow
Lawn, several Richmond police officers raised their fists in solidarity.
Drivers honked car horns and workers along Broad Street came out of buildings to clap and show their support as the line passed. They arrived just before 2:30 p.m. to applause at the Lee monument, where nearly 1,000 protesters already had gathered.
Around 4 p.m., protesters in Ashland who fell silent to commemorate Floyd marched a half-mile from the town hall to the police station, escorted by town police and clergy.
At the police station, the demonstrators chanted, “These Racists Have Got to Go,” “No Justice, No Peace,” and “We’re All God’s Children.”
Several of the event’s organizers and a clergy member said they wanted the Hanover County area to show solidarity with Richmond.
“I believe this town has some shelteredness to it because we’re secluded from the city,” said the Rev. Randell Williams, pastor of Shiloh Baptist Church in Ashland. “The desire is to help us become a society where we are all equal.”
Samantha Whitlock, a 20-year-old graduate of Patrick Henry High School who lives in Mechanicsville, organized the march, saying she said she wanted Ashland and Hanover residents to have an outlet.
“People here wanted to participate in the same kind of things they’re seeing in Richmond without having to go into the city and potentially risk getting hurt,” Whitlock said.
Some of the people who participated in the march thanked Police Chief Doug Goodman for participating, presenting him flowers and a handmade sign. Goodman told the group he understands why the protests are happening.
“What happened to Mr. George Floyd is not right,” he said. “In 27 years of policing I’ve never been trained to put my knee on someone’s neck.”
He added: “What I want you to know … we will continue to work on all these issues that are being brought up.”
In Chesterfield, minutes before protesters began a 6 p.m. march to the county courthouse, Police Chief Jeffrey Katz condemned the actions that led to Floyd’s death and said he understands the outrage and fear that people across the country felt while watching the video of
Floyd in distress and dying.
“I don’t know a law enforcement officer that
I have spoke with who has anything but complete contempt for the video that we saw,” said Katz, who was joined by Chesterfield Sheriff Karl Leonard.
Consequently, “we need to make sure that we’re doing everything we can to make people feel safe, and recognize that some folks don’t see us as the solution,” the chief said.
“If we’re not serving everyone in this community, we’re failing in our mission,” Katz added. “Our job is to help people feel safe from their fears, and if we’re part of that, we have to own it.”
Katz invited anyone from the community who feels like they haven’t been heard, or don’t feel comfortable when they see uniformed officers, to reach out “so we can sit down and have a hard conversation ... and listen to one another.”
Unfortunately, Katz said, the notion of equal justice that march organizers were promoting — and his department “absolutely” endorses — has been “hijacked by anarchists in many areas of the country. “And I want to make sure we are refocusing on the important message of equal justice.”
Leonard said, “People are frustrated and rightfully so,” and that the march “is an excellent example of using that frustration to be seen, to be heard, to be understood.”
“As important as it is to learn from this, it is more important that we change from this,” he said.
Hundreds of demonstrators marched under the hot sun down Iron Bridge Road chanting “I Can’t Breathe,” “Black Lives Matter,” and “No Justice, No Peace” as Chesterfield police officers slowly drove alongside them. Cars driving by honked in support.
Vanessa Adams, a Chester resident and retired federal prison warden, said she had to march.
“I care about justice. I care about peace. I care that my grandchildren and great-grandchildren when they hear about this, they know that their grandmother walked,” she said. “If we don’t have justice for all, we don’t have it for none.”
Gathered in front of the Chesterfield courthouse, the crowd erupted in Bill Wither’s “Lean On Me.”
“Some people don’t understand what it’s like to be black, even in Chesterfield,” Shedrick McCall, an associate professor at Virginia State University who helped organized the march, told the crowd.
“It’s not our racial differences that divide us, it’s our inability to recognize that our differences can unite us and make us stronger people in Chesterfield County.”
As the closing prayer began, the Rev. Marcus Leggett called for three law enforcement officers from the crowd to form a circle around his 17-year-old son, Joshua.
Two black men and a white woman emerged, joined hands and bowed their heads as Leggett prayed. His son held his hand in a fist above his head as his father spoke.
“We will not be segregated anymore,” said Leggett, a pastor at Shiloh Baptist Church and Mount Pleasant Church in Chesterfield.
Joshua Leggett, an incoming senior at Thomas Dale High, said afterward that a feeling of gratitude came over him.
“Being a black man in America, it’s hard to see the police as a force on your side. Having them around me is them doing what they’re supposed to do, to protect and serve.”
Protesters marched Wednesday from Willow Lawn in Henrico County to Monument Avenue for a rally. The group had originally planned to walk from Short Pump Town Center.
Ashland Deputy Police Chief Anthony Callahan (from left) and Police Chief Doug Goodman kneeled during a moment of silence Wednesday at Ashland Town Hall.
Demonstrators made their way down Iron Bridge Road in Chesterfield County on Wednesday en route to the Chesterfield County courthouse.