Hundreds of people gathered Saturday morning for the “Richmond Stands United For Racial Justice” rally and march. The demonstration was organized in a show of unity after the Tennessee-based group the “New Confederate States of America” announced an event in Richmond at the Monument Avenue statue of Robert E. Lee.
Richmond Peace Education Center (RPEC), Virginia Interfaith Center for Public Policy and First Unitarian Universalist Church of Richmond organized the counter rally and held safety trainings Friday night. RPEC staff member Jelani Drew led organizing of the event.
“We embrace and celebrate our beautiful, rich diversity as a community,” said RPEC Director Adria Scharf as she addressed the crowd. “We stand committed to building a just and equitable Richmond in which every child regardless of race or zip code has full access to hope, opportunity and safety. And we stand committed to building a region and a city that is truly free of white supremacy.”
Standing in front of the newly erected monument honoring civil rights activist, banker and business leader Maggie Walker, Virginia Interfaith Center for Public Policy’s Lana Heath de Martinez said white supremacy is at the root of economic injustice, anti-immigrant sentiments, anti-semitism and Islamophobia.
“We are here to denounce it and insist that our narrative is one of inclusion,” said de Martinez. “The city is a place where all people should be safe and free. We are here today to say division is the way of the past and the way of the future is only together.”
Dr. Oliver Hill, professor of psychology at Virginia State University and son of the late civil rights attorney Oliver Hill Sr., also addressed the crowd.
“Growing up in the ‘50s, my father used to get hate calls every night and we had a cross burned in our yard and I’m not even sure if it was mentioned in the paper the next day,” said Hill. “We’re not going back to the ‘50s. This is a different world, looking out on your bright faces where you’re saying ‘We’re not going to stand for this!’ This is a different world than the one I grew up in.”
Hill emphasized that the fight for racial justice and equality is a daily effort, and urged the crowd to vote, to play a role in improving inner city schools and to work to dismantle the prison industrial complex.
Demonstrators held signs reading “Love All,” “United Against the New CSA,” and “Black Lives Matter.” Sandy Navarro's sign said: “A Heritage of Hate is Nothing to Celebrate.” The Wilmington, NC resident traveled here with Robin Moody to show solidarity with Richmond residents.
“We decided right after Charlottesville, we wanted to be able to, as soon as we could, show how we oppose what’s going on,” said Navarro. “To me, in this day and age to have that sort of racism and hatred walk through our streets, it’s making me want to cry now.”
“So many people want to wait until it is in their own hometown and sometimes that’s too late,” said Moody. “Why not come travel and try to stop it here before it gets to your back door,” she said.
Participants also included legal observers with the ACLU of Virginia, medics identified by a red cross and rally volunteers wearing yellow vests who served as “security marshals” to help maintain safety. During the speeches at the Maggie Walker statue, police officers were stationed in the middle of Broad. When the march began, officers shut down the street and escorted the group who quietly walked on the sidewalk, even though the street was empty.
One of those marching was VCU nursing student Nicole Downey. Wearing a backpack and holding a thick medical textbook, Downey said she decided to postpone her plans to go to the library and join the group. She said one of her friends was injured in the car-ramming attack in Charlottesville.
“I think this is really important. As a white person I’m able to choose if I want to avoid danger,” she said. “All of these people can’t, they walk down the street and get shot. So I figured I want to be there and support if I can.”
Marchers walked 13 blocks to the J.E.B. Stuart statue on Monument Avenue, where police had stationed large garbage and public works trucks at the intersections. Demonstrators paused at the steps of the First English Evangelical Lutheran Church where local organizers, Drums No Guns and New York-based Black Lives Matter activists closed out the Racial Justice march. Many then headed through police-guarded barricades toward the east side of the Robert E. Lee statue. Demonstrators were separated by more barricades and dozens of police from the pro-statue rally on the other side of the Lee monument, though many walked around the cordoned off blocks to reach the area.
On the east side of Lee, a Trump supporter stood with mostly anti-Confederate States of America protesters. Richmond resident Chris Willis wore a red “Make America Great Again” hat and held a sign reading: “I am anti-nazi, anti-white supremist, pro-statue.”
“I don’t like Nazis, I don’t like white supremacists, I’m not a prejudiced person,” said Willis when asked why he chose this area to demonstrate, “But I do respect these soldiers, so I felt this was the side I should be on.”
Around 11:30 am, demonstrators near the Stuart statue began yelling “Let her go!” Police in riot gear had detained a woman and were walking her toward the Lee statue as crowds yelled “Who do you serve? Who do you protect?” Witnesses told WCVE the woman was in a confrontation with a Hampton Roads-based protester when police grabbed her. Later Saturday, RPD issued a statement identifying the woman as Brittany D. Bush of Petersburg. Police charged her with disorderly conduct. Six others were arrested and police reported no injuries or accidents.
Correction: An earlier version of this article misidentified the location of residence of the protestor involved in the confrontation as New York. The article has also been updated with the total number of arrests.