In the wake of two more high-profile deaths of Black men at the hands of white law enforcement last week, Richmond’s Triston Harris organized a “1,000 Man March” on July 16 to bring unity to the community, he said.
The name of the event is akin to the Million Man March organized by Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan, who called for unity and the revitalization of African American communities by demonstrating in Washington, D.C., in 1995. Last October, the Nation of Islam hosted a 20-year anniversary of the historic event.
In Richmond on Saturday, hundreds of students, families and community members gathered at Monroe Park at 3 p.m. on for a smaller-scale, but similarly-minded demonstration.
“I was amazed by what took place today,” said Harris, one of the event’s primary organizers. “I saw people from every ethnic background socializing, but not with just each other — with police, high ranking officials, and other people involved in the community.”
Harris said one of the goals of the demonstration was to bring awareness to issues plaguing minority communities and to help curb violence. Just hours prior to the march, a man was shot in the back on Broad Street around 2 a.m., just blocks from Monroe Park.
“I’m excited we remained peaceful and that we were heard,” Harris said. “It’s time for people to stop just talking, but act as well. We are excited for the future and are glad today was a great turn out.”
Harris said he worked at length with the Richmond and VCU Police Departments throughout the preceding week to ensure a safe, effective event.
The demonstrators chanted “No Justice, No Peace, No Bad Police” and “Black Lives Matter,” from Monroe Park on VCU’s campus, across the Robert E. Lee bridge and Jefferson Davis highway and into the South Side where the group concluded near Blackwell Community Center.
Richmond and VCU Police led, trailed and paralleled the group to control traffic patterns while EMS followed to ensure the 90 degree weather and dehydration did not cause anyone harm. Some participants also drove alongside the demonstrators to distribute water bottles.
“We talked to the organizers in advance. They said it’s an anti-violence event and we support that 110 percent,” said Richmond Police Lt. Lewis Mills. “We knew some folks were gonna show up a little anti-police and that’s fine — believe it or not that doesn’t hurt most cops’ feelings. The only things we worry about is somebody showing up who might want to harm somebody and that’s what worries us.”
Mills said he thought the event was a positive demonstration, and said many people thanked the law enforcement for being present.
“Ninety percent of the people (here) support the police, and even those who don’t — we’re here for them,” Mills said. “I tell every one of my new officers, ‘you treat people the way you would want a police officer to deal with your family members and you’ll never have a problem.’”
One such participant who was not in favor of police presence was Richmond-local Sarah Rupp, who held a “Fuck the Police” sign with some friends.
“The police are overwhelmingly enforcing white supremacy and colonization within the United States and neighborhoods of color, and also working class neighborhoods,” Rupp said. “Historically the majority of police force is white and they’re policing places that aren’t white and that’s where the killings are happening.”
At Blackwell elementary school, where many of the demonstrators finished the approximately-three-mile-long march from Monroe Park, members of the community took turns addressing the crowd.
“Let’s stop praying about it and do something about it,” said Bishop James Moore, who said he had walked out in the middle of his sermon to join the protest. “They’re literally waiting for me right now,” Moore said to the crowd.
“Let’s stop singing it’s going to be a brighter day and make a brighter day,” Moore said.
Moore emphasized that peaceful demonstrations and encounters, not violence, are the answer to fix the “broken system.”
“There are those of you out here that can fix the system,” Moore said. “We don’t need 9mms, we don’t need AK (47 assault rifle)s, we don’t need Glocks, we need this. This is what democracy looks like.”
Other participants, however, were more disenchanted with the overall event.
“For someone who has rallied and marched at other (Black Lives Matter demonstrations) it was ‘interesting,’” said Aaron Ni’jai, a senior marketing major at VCU. “It was cute, but it also had a lot of problems.”
As an example, Ni’jai said he could “smell” the homophobia and transphobia among the group.
“It was thick too. People loved screaming “Black Lives Matter” but when we yelled about Black Queer lives or Black Trans Lives, people got silent,” Ni’jai said, adding that he also thought the physical direction of the protest missed the point.
“We marched three miles to the South Side, which is a predominately Black area. If we wanted to shut shit down and make a difference we should have went to Carytown or the West End. That would have really shut shit down,” Ni’jai said. “(And) don’t get me started with people hugging cops at an anti-cop, Black Lives Matter rally.”
Photos by: Sarah King, for use by the Commonwealth Times
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