By Carol Vaughn —
Eastern Shore residents this week joined people around the nation in protesting the death of George Floyd, a black man, at the hands of police in Minneapolis.
Gov. Ralph Northam declared a state of emergency in Virginia Sunday in the wake of widespread unrest after Floyd’s death.
Protests in several Virginia cities, including Richmond, the capital, turned violent over the weekend, with stores looted and fires set, and police using tear gas on protestors and making arrests.
“This emergency declaration will provide the necessary support to localities as they work to keep our communities safe, Northam said in a press release, adding, “There are many voices speaking out for justice and healing across the United States and in our Commonwealth, but others are exploiting this pain and inciting violence.”
“The Commonwealth of Virginia has experienced significant events in the past 48 hours that have required intervention to restore order, ensure the safety of protestors and the public, protect property, and provide additional resources to support our local and state partners. In the past 24 hours alone, there have been numerous instances of unlawful activity resulting in injuries to peaceful protestors and first responders, significant property damage, and continued escalation of violent events,” Executive Order 64 reads, in part.
The order cites unlawful assemblies in Richmond, Prince William County, and Roanoke.
In Richmond, damage included burning of two buildings, vehicle fires, dumpster fires, vandalism, looting, and damage to police vehicles.
The order directs state and local governments “to render appropriate assistance to prepare for and respond to this situation.”
The order activates the Virginia Emergency Operations Center and Emergency Support Team to coordinate assistance to state and local governments and activates the Virginia National Guard to active duty.
It also authorizes up to $350,000 in state funds for state and local response to the emergency, including $250,000 for the Department of Military Affairs.
The order also placed a curfew between 8 p.m. and 6 a.m. in Richmond until June 3.
The order is in effect until June 29 unless it is changed or rescinded.
“I acknowledge each of the voices crying out for justice and healing across the United States and in our Commonwealth. I affirm the deep concerns from the black community.
I hear you. I know your pain is real,” Northam wrote in a Facebook post Sunday morning, adding, “We have all seen too many people harassed, abused, and killed by law enforcement officers, in too many places, for too long—just for being black. I also know that others are exploiting this pain and are now causing violence.”
Local Rallies Organized
Local organizers this week announced rallies in Accomack County to protest Floyd’s death, including in Accomac and Chincoteague, as well as in Exmore in Northampton County.
Shanyette Dickerson is among organizers of a peaceful protest planned for Saturday, June 6 at 2 p.m. at the courthouse green in Accomac.
It is the first such event Dickerson and the others have organized.
“I’m hoping to have a little more unity in our community,” Dickerson said in a telephone interview with the Post this week.
She wants people to know “we’re here; we hear them. I have so many people who are just angry on Facebook…and they don’t have anywhere to put their anger, so I feel like this rally will definitely be a good, safe space for people to say their frustrations. It’s okay to be mad; we have a right to be angry.”
Plans include motivational speakers and a moment of silence for those who have died as result of police brutality.
The organizers decided to plan a protest on the Eastern Shore after attending an event in Norfolk last week.
“It was such unity there, and it gave me a chance to be able to feel okay with expressing the anger and the hurt and the rage that I have with how we are as a nation,” said Taniqua West, another person involved in planning the event.
Their hope is to bring awareness to issues surrounding racism and to start a conversation locally, they said.
On Chincoteague, a rally for justice and equality was held at Donald J. Leonard Park Wednesday afternoon.
Organizer Samantha Kelly, who was born and raised on Chincoteague — and who is white — is a Chincoteague High School graduate. She graduated in May from the University of Virginia with a double major in Sociology and Media Studies.
Asked why she decided to organize a rally on Chincoteague, Kelly said Tuesday, “This is something that I’ve always been interested in — civil rights, women’s rights, gay rights — I’ve always been active in my community and trying to stand out and make a difference where I can.”
“I have a lot of friends in Horntown, and a lot of black friends in Chincoteague, and I’ve made friends out in Charlottesville. I feel like the last few years with my education, my eyes have become more open than ever — and I feel like, if not me, then who?” Kelly said, adding, “…Why don’t we put Chincoteague on the map as an accepting and inclusive, diverse place that is tolerant?”
The event, which remained peaceful, attracted around 120 people — a mix of young and old, black and white, many holding signs.
The event kicked off with a prayer offered by the Rev. Lisa Marie Cropper Johnson, a graduate of Chincoteague High School, Class of 1984.
“What this is about is peace and love; this is not about rioting; that is not what we are doing here. This is going to be a peaceful protest,” Kelly said.
Kelly gave a brief speech, saying, “We all know how George Floyd died; we all know that this is only one of countless cases of unjust, race-based police brutality. It hurts us. We are grieving with our country. We are tired. We are tired of systematic racism. We are tired of our black brothers and sisters being discriminated against because of the color of their skin.”
Kelly’s speech was followed by chants of “Black Lives Matter,” “Justice for George,” “Don’t Forget to Vote,” and other slogans, and then by nearly a dozen other speakers, after Kelly invited participants to take the microphone and say their piece.
Chincoteague native Alyssa Hickman said of racism, “To people who call this home, we know how great it is here, how everybody treats everybody so great — but you know what? It’s here.”
She recounted how her boyfriend, who is of mixed race, was called a derogatory name at a local restaurant, and how an employee at a Salisbury uniform shop accused him of stealing when he went to the store to purchase scrubs for his new job as a registered nurse.
“So, long story short, guys — it is local…It happens all the time. The best thing we can do is just say something, call it out,” she said.
Chincoteague resident Pat Farley, who recently ran for a seat on town council, thanked Kelly for organizing the rally.
“There is more we can do to push this town to be more inclusive,to open up avenues of opportunity for everyone here,” she said.
Aleda Frishman said she is a Chincoteaguer whose heritage on the island dates to the 1600s.
“This matters; this matters,” she said, adding, “…Systemic racism runs through all of the systems in America…This matters, this peaceful protest matters. We have to keep going.”
“We are having the rally here because we want Chincoteague’s name to be a bright, shining star on the map of all the cities supporting black rights across the U. S. We want Chincoteague to be known as a supportive, inclusive, and loving place…We want to start a conversation here,” Kelly said.