Marcus-David Peters Circle’s fence blockades Black unity

Illustration by Lauren Johnson

Tagwa Shammet, Opinions Editor

Marcus-David Peters Circle.

To most Richmonders, this circle is a political hotspot. It is where protesters gathered this past summer during the Black Lives Matter rallies. To me, it is our unifying hub. 

I remember when I got back to Richmond in July, the first place I went to was Marcus-David Peters Circle. I had seen pictures of the art painted on the Robert E. Lee statue and the concerts and cookouts held in support of the protests. I was in awe of the beauty the area held.

Yet, the pictures and videos I saw online did not do the circle justice. 

It was the Fourth of July — a day that the Black community was especially critical of this year. With the deaths of our Black brothers and sisters, the shackles that once chained our ancestors continue to hold Black America down. We are not free.

So, when I arrived at the circle, I was amazed by the unity in front of me. People were outside playing music, eating food — gathered together during a stressful time. 

It was then that I realized the purpose of Marcus-David Peters Circle: solidarity. It served as a hub for peace and unity. 

A place that showcases the statue of a vicious man with an even worse history — a statue that symbolizes the hate and distaste this nation has for Black people — has slowly been reclaimed and turned into a home for activists.

But to be Black means to be silenced. 

Our grievances and complaints are meant to be held within, never voiced or constructive. Instead, we are to obediently swallow the neglect systematically heaped down on us. And should we have the audacity to rise up against such injustice, our means of support and unity are fenced off by the same creators of our pain.

The Virginia Department of General Services installed a fence around Marcus-David Peters Circle on Jan. 25. The department claimed the fencing is meant “to ensure the safety of visitors and workers as part of DGS’s plan to prepare the site for the removal of the Lee statue.”

The fencing around Marcus-David Peters Circle is not meant to provide safety nor protection; it is symbolic of the systematic blockading of Black unity.

This summer, protesters and community members managed to reconstruct the negative aura and response that our message was met with into something so positive in the circle. Yet again, a space for relaxation and peace for minority members is being turned into a political battlefield. 

The Lee monument has been up for far too long. And we have yet to truly hear when the statue will be gone. It simply rubs me the wrong way to see that the Lee monument was the only area that needed to be fenced up in preparation for the statue’s removal.

We are not not naive, so please do not peg us as such. It is clear that the difference between the removal of the Lee statue and the other Confederate statues is that Black comfort was created in Marcus-David Peters Circle.

It becomes disheartening, yet unsurprising, to see how this institution continues to put down communities of color, especially the Black community. 

Preventing community members from entering a space they have cultivated into their own sanctuary is a prime example of how this nation and how this government will undoubtedly prioritize their agendas over community healing.

The fencing around Marcus-David Peters Circle is just another form of systematic silencing. But what this government has refused to see is that we do not conform to forced silence. We, communities full of minorities, are starting to become the majority. We will continue to fight for justice and peace. That is something you can never put a fence around. 

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