Nationwide, large scale marches and protests have erupted following the widespread video of the death of George Floyd, a black man who died after a white police officer, Derek Chauvin, knelt on his neck for nearly 10 minutes.
“I think something like this is a result of a breaking point in the black community and I guess in minorities in general,” said Joshua Knight, an African American graduate student of school psychology at James Madison University.
On Monday, over 1,000 protesters marched from Liberty Park to near Hotel Madison and then back to the park.
Protesters of all races cited many reasons, including the death of Floyd, for their presence Monday.
“Just being able to see the video of what happened to George Floyd and just being outraged by, even though there was a video, it took so long to make an arrest,” said Tiffany Yates, a black resident of the city. “This has been going on for years and we just want justice so we have to do our part.”
Many of these reasons also went beyond interactions between people of color and law enforcement. Black protesters said that they and fellow black Americans are also treated worse than white counterparts in the sectors of education and health care, among many more.
For most of the march, protesters remained silent, save only a few, occasional murmured conversations that emanated from the crowd. As they passed the Rockingham County Jail, one could hear birds in the trees as the crowd, many carrying signs, walked in near perfect quiet broken by hushed words and feet meeting pavement and sidewalk.
But as the front of the procession reached just past the Virginia Quilt Museum, a call went out.
“No justice,” a voice said from a microphone.
“No peace,” marchers responded back.
Chanting continued, including refrains such as “Say His Name” and “Say Her Name” with the crowd responding “George Floyd” or “Breonna Taylor.”
Protesters of almost all ages and all races could be found in the crowd, an overwhelming number wearing black and only a handful not wearing masks.
Cops were at the front and the back of the march, directing traffic away from protesters.
Toward the end of the march’s route, a driver of a minivan honked at protesters to get out of the way while marchers continued at the intersection of Elizabeth Street and North Main Street, across from the Public Safety Building. Several protesters stood between the van and intersection, blocking its way to West Elizabeth Street and keeping distance between the vehicle and the protesters.
Several protesters approached the minivan and spoke with the driver.
Tensions rose as the driver moved the vehicle forward momentarily, appearing to try to turn around. As the vehicle was moving, several police officers arrived, halting the driver until the crowd had passed before allowing her to continue to move her minivan.
The officers stood in front of the vehicle until there no protesters in the roadway for the van to continue its journey, which it did without incident.
Other protesters also said Monday that the issues that brought them out to march were larger than the single death of Floyd, however tragic and unnecessary his death was.
“There’s never been a time where I’ve been alive where I felt equal to a white man,” said 16-year-old Jeremiah Haliburton of Rockingham County. The young man is a rising senior at Spotswood High School. Friends of his and fellow Spotswood High Trailblazers, Antonio Fornadel, 15, and a Cole Grindle, 17, were also at the march.
Haliburton said that implicit biases contribute racist and prejudiced actions against people of color in the country.
“There’s still places you can go in America where they don’t even see black people, so when they do see them, they don’t know nothing but to say stuff bad about them,” Haliburton said. “I feel like that’s where some of the roots of the problem come as well.”
Several protesters said they were present to try and improve things for the next generation.
“For me, being black, I have two little brothers, so it’s more of trying to put policy in place to keep them safe,” Jakya Jones, of Harrisonburg, said. “I don’t want to see what happened to George Floyd or Trayvon Martin or anybody happen to my family, nor do I want it to happen to anybody else’s,” she said.
John Mahilchik, who went to the event with Jones, said it would take a month of no police brutality to make him feel as though progress was being made.
“Just go a month, at least a month,” he said. “We haven’t even made it a week in how long?”