Local photographer Joi Donaldson said she decided to utilize social media to organize a vigil and community discussion after she awoke, enraged, on Thursday to learn of a second fatal shooting of an unarmed Black man at the hands of law enforcement officials in a 48 hour span.
One Facebook post authored by Donaldson elicited hundreds of shares and by Thursday evening, more than 100 RVA locals assembled in VCU’s Monroe Park to join her in honoring the lives of Louisiana’s Alton Sterling and Minnesota’s Philando Castile.
More than a dozen in attendance spoke about the injustices persistently plaguing Black Americans.
One speaker identified himself as Tymone Brown, a social worker in Richmond.
“People talk about how miseducated we are, this whole damn system is miseducated,” Brown said, “What do I have to do to let you know my life is as important as yours? I don’t want you to think I’m better than you. I’m a man, I make mistakes.”
“What do you want me to do? I’m sitting here with questions. I got to deal with walking out the house and thinking somebody’s going to judge me on the way I look, the way I talk and the way I move,” Brown said. “While I’m in the house I got my own internal conflicts because I’m black. I got to go home and sleep and when I wake up I got to see another man dead.”
Another person said her husband, who is serving in the U.S. Army in Afghanistan said he felt safer abroad than at home in the states.
“My husband fights for the freedom of this country everyday, but when he comes home he’s still at war,” she said as she burst to tears, “When he’s over there they don’t see black and white, they see that uniform and he’s a target. When he comes home and he takes off that uniform, they see his black skin and he’s a target.”
The next speaker shared a similar sentiment.
“Look to your right and look to your left. What prevents us from not being next? We live in the capital of the confederacy, this entire city was built on the idea of racism,” the speaker said to the crowd of attendees. “We have a street erected to honor people who oppressed and killed black people. We stand under trees where people were hung and we don’t think about that.”
She then invited those who had attended the vigil to join her in marching the streets of the River City and, almost instantaneously, the vigil turned into a unrehearsed demonstration.
Protesters marched from Monroe Park to W. Broad Street and back to the VCU Commons, at times stopping to cooperate with police who acted only to ensure the demonstrators maintained order.
Protesters made an effort to not disrupt evening commutes by marching on both of the sidewalks to separate the large crowd so it wouldn’t overflow into the road.
When the march reached the intersection of W. Broad and N. Harrison streets, organizers led the demonstration to a halt, separating the crowd into the four corners of the intersection so the group would not block traffic.
As the group passed the VCU Police Department, they stopped for a moment of silence in honor of Sterling and Castile. Outside the VCU PD station, one participant fought to hold back tears as others rushed to console her. The demonstration then moved to the VCU Compass for final remarks by Donaldson.
“This was beautiful. You have no idea what you guys did today,” Donaldson said to the crowd. “I don’t think it’s going to hit me for a week that this all started from a Facebook post.”
Print News Editor, Fadel Allassan
Fadel is a junior political science and print journalism major. He is fluent in English, French and Sarcasm, and he probably doesn’t like you. Fadel enjoys writing about politics and making people drive him to Cook-Out. // Facebook | LinkedIn