Demonstrators lay outside Richmond police building during seventh night of protests honoring George Floyd

Demonstrators laid on Chamberlayne Avenue in front of the Richmond Police Fourth Precinct building on Thursday afternoon after marching from Monroe Park. Photo by Eduardo Acevedo

Eduardo Acevedo, News Editor
Hannah Eason, Managing Editor
Andrew Ringle, Executive Editor

Demonstrations sparked by the death of George Floyd, a black man who died in police custody after an officer kneeled on his neck for several minutes, continued in Richmond for a seventh night on Thursday.

Protesters started in Monroe Park at 6 p.m. before marching downtown toward the Richmond Police’s Fourth Precinct building. Some laid on their stomachs with their hands behind their backs –– representing Floyd’s position in the video that captured his death –– covering Chamberlayne Avenue outside the police building.

“Tonight we came out here to fight for our rights,” said Jaz Mulboh, a protester who joined the group on Friday. “Fight for equality, fight for fairness, fight for unity.”

Mulboh said she was motivated to join by seeing the changes caused by recent protests. Mulboh called one of those changes — Gov. Ralph Northam’s decision to remove a monument honoring Confederate leader Robert E. Lee — “necessary.”

“Honestly I feel like they should’ve done that a long time ago. So I really hope that they do go through with it, and I appreciate Northam for acknowledging and listening to our voices.”

Northam announced Thursday that the Department of General Services would remove the Lee statue as soon as possible and move it into storage. Northam said he would work with the community to determine where to place it. 

Members of the National Guard and Richmond Police overlooked the crowd while many protesters offered fellow marchers water bottles, Powerade and snacks in the 90-degree heat.

The crowd demonstrated until the sun went down and then began their march back to Monroe Park.

VCU psychology major Winnie Johnson has been protesting for six nights in a row and said she’s here for “peace, love and empowerment.” She said after watching Floyd’s memorial service on Thursday, she feels like America has its “knee” on the necks of all black people.

“We can’t build, we can’t move forward, because we’re being crushed essentially,” Johnson said.

Johnson said she felt that looting businesses and burning buildings was necessary to “make a statement” in the beginning of the protests.

“Truly, people don’t care until stuff that they care about starts getting hurt. Black lives are not cared about, that’s why a lot of people didn’t care around the country,” Johnson said. “So when we took it to their stores and their businesses, and they’re financially being impacted, it did open some eyes a little bit more.”

The first two nights of protests in the city were characterized by looting and vandalism, and images of a GRTC bus burning on Broad Street on Friday night circulated social media the next day. Demonstrations on following nights were more peaceful with many encouraging fellow protesters to keep the march nonviolent.

Johnson said she plans to march for “as long as it takes” and is following the mentality of Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcom X.

“When they started back in the day, they didn’t know how long they’d be going, so I’m just keeping that mentality and spirit alive,” Johnson said.

Thursday was Gwen Fitzgerald’s first night at a large protest. Fitzgerald previously had a “one woman protest” to meet her new neighbor, who was protesting on her porch with her kids. 

Before joining hundreds of demonstrators outside of the Richmond Police’s Fourth Precinct building, Fitzgerald volunteered at Oakwood Arts, a community organization in the East End. She made a sign that reads: “Respecting other people doesn’t make you weak, it makes all the rest of us stronger.”

“We can pretend that we’ve resolved a lot of issues, that we’ve passed a lot of laws and that we live in a just society,” Fitzgerald said as she marched from Chamberlayne Avenue, “but just in the last week alone … those ideas were shattered.”

As protester JT Daniels marched back to Monroe Park on Thursday evening, she said police officers need additional training before joining the force. 

“They don’t just need more physical training, they don’t just need more mountains to run up or pushups to do,” Daniels said. “They need psychological training. They need to know how to respond to mental health issues ‘cause they’re the front line, they’re the first ones we call.”

Daniels said she experienced racial injustice while going to a predominantly white high school but feels that “hate is taught.” She said she was marching for those that can’t be there to fight.

“Three hundred and eighty one days is what MLK did, so I’ll do the same damn thing. … If that’s what we need, then I’ll do it,” Daniels said. “Because they can’t be here — MLK isn’t here, they shot him. Malcolm X isn’t here, they shot him. We are the only people who can make change. We’re the only people that can do anything about what’s happening to us.”

Protesters are gathering in Monroe Park at 6 p.m. on Friday.

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