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Past 10 p.m. on a Monday night, a group of about thirty VCU students met in the Student Media Center on Broad Street. Crowding the facility, the students talked of injustice while they used sharpies to scribble messages to the likes of “Black Lives Matter” on cardboard. Just an hour later the group was marching through Richmond, its size in the hundreds.
This was a response to a grand jury decision in St. Louis. The jury did not indict Darren Wilson, the white police officer who shot and killed 18 year-old Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo. With this decision, protests erupted in Ferguson and across the country, including the former capital of the Confederacy.
President Barack Obama addressed the nation Monday night concerning the grand jury’s decision to let Wilson walk from charges including first degree murder and involuntary manslaughter.
“I ask anyone who protests this decision to do so peacefully,” he said.
The president said the decision should be respected. He also touched on the struggling relationship between police and citizens.
“It’s just another one and we keep going, keep going. I don’t know, but I know that America loves us, I know, I know because …. There’s only one chapter in the book about black history, but I know they love us,” said Raymond Johnson, a sophomore theater major in the Student Media Center.
Before walking the streets to protest the decision, the group listened as a VCU student read a pamphlet on how to act if confronted by a cop. With the helpful words, “use common sense,” the group, which has grown to almost 50 people, walked on Broad Street across from Goshen Street.
Gaining support from VCU students, the group walked towards The Compass.
“No justice no peace,” they chanted, “black lives matter.”
Turning left on Laurel Street, the crowd had already reached triple digits.
Ashley Moody, a sophomore graphic design major, hoped the protest would help gain support and help find justice.
“I think we had that little inkling of hope thinking that maybe it would be the right decision, but it wasn’t,” she said.
Once in the Compass, Sika Nyamador, freshmen international studies and social justice major, began a prayer as the group encircled her.
“We pray that your presence will come through on this campus lord Jesus Christ,” she said with her head bowed, a girl beside of her holding a sign that read ‘sick and tired of being sick and tired. Who’s next?’
By 11:08 p.m., there were at least seven cop cars and two bicycle cops on the outskirts of the Compass.
“We will allow them to protest and express their opinions, so as long as everything remains peaceful we’re going to allow that to happen and we’ll accommodate,” said VCU PD’s officer Hill at 11:10 p.m.
He said the police heard about the march about twenty minutes prior to their arrival when patrols noticed the group moving.
From the Compass, the march continued down Shafer Street to Broad Street, turning on Belvidere towards the compass. Multiple counts place the crowd size at about 700 people at this point – at times they are taking up all three lanes of traffic, but many urge other to stay on the sidewalk as to not anger the cops who are escorting the march.
“Before this I never had a problem with the police,” said Attalah Shabazz, who donned a Guy Fawkes mask and pumped her hand passionately as she marched.
Her brother was beaten by cops in the past while in Washington D.C.
“I thought he did something to deserve it, but now I don’t know,” Shabazz said, who had also been to Ferguson in October to protest and show solidarity with the events that were unfolding across the country.
Protesters cut through Monroe Park, and while they were standing in front of Altria Theater, they made the announcement they would be heading towards the Richmond Police Department.
“I didn’t think this many people would show up,” said Jafar Cooper an undecided freshman.
Marching down Franklin Street, the crowd spread into the street, covering all three car lanes and multiple blocks, and they walked toward their destination. They turned left on Jefferson Avenue and at 12:03 a.m. the march arrived at the Richmond Police Department.
In front of the glass doors of the station Shabazz addressed the crowd of hundreds.
“We are the generation that can make a difference,” she said.
Moments later, at 12:17 a.m., the entire crowd hushed for a moment of silence, which was broken by a woman’s voice singing Amazing Grace, the crowd joining her moments later.
At 12:30 a.m. the crowd began to disperse and head their separate ways with plans to meet again Tuesday at 4:30 p.m. at the John Marshall Courthouse.
“Let’s grow bigger,” Shabazz said. “Let’s grow in this fight. This is a fight that has to continue and not just tomorrow.”
— Janette Corcelius (@engoogy) November 25, 2014