Richmond demonstrations honoring George Floyd, Breonna Taylor persist into rainy conditions

Protesters gather around the J.E.B. Stuart statue on Monument Avenue in the rain on Friday night, hours after demonstrations near the Richmond City Justice Center. Photo by Eduardo Acevedo

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

Purple balloons and black fists crafted out of papier-mache filled the air in Richmond on Friday as protesters honored what would have been the 27th birthday of Breonna Taylor, a black woman killed by police in her home in Louisville, Kentucky.

Demonstrators marched to the Richmond City Justice Center for the eighth night of protests in Richmond sparked by the death of George Floyd, a black man who died in police custody. 

Protesters carried purple balloons in honor of Breonna Taylor’s birthday. Purple was one of Taylor’s favorite colors. Photo by Eduardo Acevedo

Former Black Panther Party member Arthur Burton spoke in front of the jail and addressed those in the crowd who had been tear-gassed in earlier protests.

“In order for you to be here today, somebody had to stand and die,” Burton said. “Somebody had to sacrifice everything. Thousands have already been murdered, thousands have already been lynched.”

Protester Brian Warren listened to Burton’s speech and said it spoke to his soul. He said holding the demonstration in front of the jail was perfect because the movement is fighting for those that are incarcerated.

“Some people think, when they’re locked in those four walls, that they’re alone,” Warren said. “We’re out here letting them know that they’re not. We’re out here thousands strong.”

Kara Brown marched alongside Warren in front of the largest detention center in Richmond holding a purple candle to signify protection. Brown’s sign read: “Witches for equality and unity.”

“The significance is us using our voice,” Brown said. “It’s time for us to speak and be heard instead of silenced and ignored.” 

Richmond protesters continued to rally into Friday night through the streets of Oregon Hill, VCU campus and the Fan after ending demonstrations in Monroe Park. Many followed the progression in cars, honking and playing music as it started to rain heavily around 1 a.m.

Many protesters were part of the 381 Movement, a group aiming to protest peacefully for 381 days. That’s the same number of days as the 1955-56 Montgomery bus boycott, a mass protest in Alabama that led to a Supreme Court decision declaring segregation on public buses to be unconstitutional.

Greg Tyler, a VCU alumnus of 2017, was arrested during a demonstration in Monroe Park on Sunday night. He said he was detained for 18 hours without water or access to bathrooms.

After being held on a bus for nine hours and being transported to the Richmond City Justice Center, Tyler said he saw officers deny inmates their medications and people have seizures.

“If we were lucky we shared one bottle of water passed around a bus for nine hours. We’re handcuffed the whole time, and they took all of our masks off.” –– Greg Tyler, VCU alumnus

Tyler said Richmond Mayor Levar Stoney’s march with protesters on Tuesday was a way of “appeasement,” and a “weak apology” for the tear-gassing and detainment of protesters by city police.

Richmond Police officers deployed tear gas on peaceful protesters at the Robert E. Lee statue on Monday. The department later tweeted that those officers were removed from the field. Stoney held a town hall meeting to apologize and marched with protesters on Tuesday.

“Him walking down the street isn’t going to make up for that,” Tyler said.

The philosophy major later shared his experience of being detained on Facebook and was happy to see people from across the country share his story.

“In the end, it was just one shitty night for me, which compared to everything that people have been going through for lifetimes and generations, one night is nothing,” Tyler said.

Sydney Murray, a VCU alumna who studied international social justice, has been riding her bike in protests for the last two days. She was with a group of bikers Friday who redirected traffic from demonstrators and scouted for counter protesters.

“Although it may seem like a minor role,” Murray said, “it is kind of liberating and empowering to be like ‘nope, we’re directing this, and we have our own direct communication with the people that are leading the walkers.’”

Murray said she knows there are some in Richmond who are opposed to the removal of statues honoring Confederate leaders, and she’s prepared to encounter them during protests. 

“We see them in regular days outside of the Confederate museum, so I know they’re here,” she said. “I’ve been actually waiting to see them, I haven’t seen them really. But I feel ready.”

Gov. Ralph Northam mandated on Thursday that the Department of General Services remove the statue of Robert E. Lee on Monument Avenue “as soon as possible.”

Protester Evan Hargreaves said it feels like “change is in the air” as he marched back to Monroe Park from the detention center on his eighth night of demonstrations.

Hargreaves said violence in the early stages of protesting came from anger and “nothing changing.” 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 as many encouraged fellow protesters to keep the march nonviolent.

“Once you’ve shown them what you’re capable of doing, it’s time to show them who you are,” Hargreaves said. “And that’s what we’re doing now … peacefully protesting.” 

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