Protesters honor Marcus-David Peters, demand defunding police during ‘Black joy’ march in Richmond

Community activist Arthur Burton delivering a speech at the Black Ass Joy march in Jefferson Park. Photo by Eduardo Acevedo

Eduardo Acevedo, News Editor

As fireworks exploded over the skyline of Richmond, protesters in the “Black Ass Joy” march occupied Jefferson Park overlooking the city for speeches and celebrations on Saturday.

The march began at The Market on 25th Street, a community-focused supermarket in Church Hill. Protesters handed out pamphlets that outlined demands for Richmond police and government.

The list of demands included:

  • Defund the police, and fund Black futures.
  • Drop all charges against protesters.
  • Remove all monuments to white supremacy.
  • Establish an independent civilian review board with subpoena power that is separate from the Richmond Police Department.
  • Release the names of all RPD officers currently under investigation for use-of-force misconduct.
  • Re-open the case of Marcus-David Peters, a VCU alumnus and high school teacher who was killed by police in 2018.
  • Establish and fully fund the Marcus Alert System, which would dispatch mental health professionals along with police responding to mental health crises.

Protesters began marching to Jefferson Park around 7 p.m. with a convoy of cars following behind. Protesters on bikes closed off intersections for marchers to cross the street.

When the demonstrators arrived at Jefferson Park, speakers took to the amphitheater to speak to the crowd in 90-degree heat.

The speeches centered around Independence Day and how slaves were not free to celebrate after the American Revolution. Community activist Arthur Burton, who was raised in Richmond, spoke on Marcus-David Peters’ death and the economic racial disparities in the city.

“This has got to be about more than just police reform,” Burton said. “This has got to be a fight for the redistribution of the wealth.” 

Christine Wyatt, a VCU dance and choreography alum said the march served to celebrate Blackness and Black joy. Wyatt said Black joy is integral to everything she does.

“Black joy is my every day,” Wyatt said. “Black joy is at the center of my work as an artist, as a creative, as a facilitator as a teacher. Joy is at the center of everything I do.”

As the speeches went on, two banners reading “Decolonize this hill” could be seen in the crowd. According to Crystal Douglas, a creative and strategic advertising VCU alum, Church Hill was a black neighborhood and indigenous land before it was gentrified by young professionals in recent years.

Douglas said that even though Black people have gone through plenty of hardship and oppression, she finds it interesting how they can find joy in everything.

“Black people gone laugh, bottom line,” Douglas said. “Black people are going to laugh.” 

Protesters addressed the lack of freedom for enslaved Black people when America gained its independence from British rule in 1776.

“My people may have not been able to celebrate their freedom today,” Douglas said, “but I’m going to continue to fight for my people and also celebrate them as well.’

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