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Richmond March Calls for Peace, Unity, Action

Large amounts of protesters showed up in support of the 5000 Man March in Richmond.
(Photo: Crixell Matthews/VPM News)

Large crowds gathered on Monument Avenue during the 5000 Man March Saturday. The march is one of many that have been held in response to police brutality and the recent killings of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, and Breonna Taylor. 

The march temporarily closed some streets in the Fan neighborhood. It began at the Robert E. Lee monument, headed down North Allen Avenue, then made its way on West Broad Street until the crowd circled back around towards the Lee monument. 

Before the march began, speakers, including Delegate Delores McQuinn and Congressman Donald McEachin, addressed the crowd. Organizers also invited Tavares Floyd, a cousin of George Floyd. Floyd thanked the crowd for showing up, and spoke out against racism and injustices against the black community.

“And at the same time that I grieve with my people and my family, I grieve with this nation,” Floyd said. 

“A nation that, since its founding, has refused to recognize and respect the mankind and womankind of my black men and my black women.”

Floyd also sought to clarify the phrase “Black lives matter.” 

“And when I say that black lives matter, it’s not about taking away from the fact that all lives matter, but it’s that these black lives still have not been acknowledged as mattering.” 

Many of the local activists who have called for police reform refused to attend, such as Princess Blanding, an organizer whose brother, Marcus-David Peters, was killed by a Richmond police officer in 2018. A statement was made via Twitter from the Justice and Reformation Coalition - which was formed after Peters was killed - addressing the presence of Richmond police.

“Justice and Reformation does not support this political stunt called the 5,000 Man March with the police, and encourage you not to support it, either." 

Some attendees celebrated the  police escort. 

“We need protection. We need them for the reason that they’re supposed to be here, to protect and serve,” said Delange Fells, a former counselor for children with autism. Fells said police reform is important, and that there also needs to be a conversation on how police handle those with special needs such as autism, specifically black men. Fells said police are not well trained in this area.

“If you’re black and you’re autistic and you’re having an episode, oh that’s going to be a problem,” Fells said.

According to one of the march’s co-organizers, Deandra Harris, Richmond police officers asked if they could march with protesters. Due to the current climate between police and civilians, Harris said they declined, but still had them guarding the area.

“Our sole purpose was to make sure that everybody was safe,” Harris said. 

“They’re not in our circle. They’re not in our march. We asked them specifically to be in the background, and take care of business from the background.”

Harris put together the 5000 Man March with her husband, Triston, in one week. The couple promoted the event through social media. Harris said she was surprised by the turnout, which numbered in the thousands.

“We had no idea that it would reach the caliber that it has,” Harris said.

This is not the first time a march was put on by Harris. Another was put together in 2016 with the same concept, but a different crowd. That event too drew some criticism for cooperating with the police, as reported by Sarah King in the Commonwealth Times.  With the current tensions, Harris said the stakes are higher this time around. 

“Anger and hate is at an all-time high,” Harris said. 

“It was then, but not as much as it is now. The only dynamic that’s different this time is the situations that have happened, causing even more anger for our people.” 

Harris said she hopes events like the 5000 Man March don’t need to be repeated, but is always willing to put on events for the community. 

“We need unity these days. So, our whole goal for doing any event is going to be to bring people together.”