Vigil Marks Anniversary Of George Floyd’s Death

Vigil Marks Anniversary Of George Floyd’s Death

MALLORY DOUGLAS speaks at the George Floyd vigil at Richardson Park Saturday.

Vigil Marks Anniversary Of George Floyd’s Death

THE REV. REGINALD EARLY leads the audience as it listens to “Lift Every Voice And Sing.”

Vigil Marks Anniversary Of George Floyd’s Death

LEXINGTON COUNCIL MEMBER Marylin Alexander reads a testimonial from a Michigan man.

Vigil Marks Anniversary Of George Floyd’s Death

TINNI SEN stressed the importance of voting. (all photos by Claudia Schwab)

On the two-month anniversary of the killing of George Floyd by police in Minneapolis, about 130 people gathered in Richardson Park on Saturday evening for a peaceful vigil organized by the Rockbridge County chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.

The vigil consisted of prayers, speeches and singing. Organizing the vigil with the Rockbridge NAACP were Sara Cunningham, Teri Bsullak and Phyllis Fevrier.

With attendees spread out, wearing masks or seated in chairs or blankets on the grass, the speakers addressed the crowd.

To recognize the eight minutes and 46 seconds that Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin knelt on Floyd’s neck on May 25, leading to Floyd’s death, three speakers read testimonies promoting racial justice to the crowd.

The first reader was Marylin Alexander, the lone Black member of the Lexington City Council. Alexander read a testimony by Robert Williams, a Black man from Farmington Hills, Mich., explaining how he was wrongfully arrested in January due to facial recognition.

“I never thought I’d have to explain to my daughters why Daddy got arrested,” Williams wrote. “How does one explain to two little girls that a computer got it wrong, but the police listened to it anyway?” Williams was handcuffed and taken to the Detroit Detention Center.

“As any other person would be, I was angry that this was happening to me,” Williams continued. “As any other Black man would be, I had to consider what could happen if I asked too many questions or displayed my anger openly — even though I knew I had done nothing wrong.”

The next morning, two officers asked if he had ever been to a Shinola watch store in Detroit. They showed him a blurry surveillance camera photo of a Black man and asked if it was him. He chuckled a bit and said it wasn’t him. The officer showed him another photo, and Williams picked it up, put it next to his face, and said, “I hope you guys don’t think that all Black men look alike.”

One of the cops said to the other, “The computer must have gotten it wrong.” After nearly 30 hours in detention, Williams was released.

“Even if this technology does become accurate (at the expense of people like me), I don’t want my daughters’ faces to be part of some government database,” Williams continued. “I don’t want cops showing up at their door because they were recorded at a protest the government didn’t like. I don’t want this technology automating and worsening the racist policies we’re protesting. I don’t want them to have a police record for something they didn’t do — like I now do.

“I keep thinking about how lucky I was to have spent only one night in jail — as traumatizing as it was,” Williams added. “Many Black people won’t be so lucky. My family and I don’t want to live with that fear. I don’t want anyone to live with that fear.”

After Alexander had finished reading that testimony, Nicholas Betts, who is running against Ben Cline for election to the U.S. House of Representatives to represent Virginia’s Sixth Congressional District, read the testimony of Dan Madden, 52, of Petaluma, Calif., who joined a protest to kneel for nine minutes to recognize the injustice done to Floyd. The testimony detailed physical and emotional pain, with emotions ranging from anger, horror and sorrow “so overwhelming I hoped I would be able to get up off my knees.”

In honoring Floyd, Madden continued, “I couldn’t get close enough to understand what he was enduring, but I imagined frantic terror and, at the end, profound loneliness.”

Madden said he thought about Mr. Floyd’s family. “Most of the country is feeling it, too,” Madden wrote. “People who grieve never quit trying to find the meaning in the deaths of their loved ones. That is why we will win.”

The next speaker was NAACP Rockbridge chapter Vice President Marquita Dunn, who read a tribute to her granddaughter. She addressed multiple kinds of racism toward Black people. “I never want you to have someone sit behind you at school and taught you, saying, ‘The South will rise again.’ I never want you to be at work and have someone demand you empty your pockets and apron because their tip is missing from their apron, and they know who took it. I never want you to be spit upon simply because of your skin color.

“I never want you to feel this constant anxiety of what is going to happen next to Black people,” she continued. “I never want you to experience things that I had to, like worrying if your dad is going to make it home every time he leaves the house …. You are the reason I need change.”

The vigil continued with words by Everton Charlton on working together to reach conclusive change, and then Mallory Douglas spoke about her experience as a Black woman. “Racism is not just experiences for Black people,” she said. “It is life. There are times when we are put in positions of experiencing, inequality and marginalization that you can’t even remember because it is all about how we are perceived.”

The next speaker was Tinni Sen, an active member of the group Community Anti-Racism Effort (CARE) of Rockbridge. Senn stressed in her remarks the importance of voting, and she indicated that several community members were present at a table in the park to register people to vote.

In addressing racism, Sen said, “It is in our power to take a step toward writing that wrong. Please vote. Please get others to vote.” Sen noted that voters could vote in person up to 45 days in advance of the November election, Sept. 18.

Sen then spoke of Daisy Elizabeth Adams Lampkin, a Black woman who devoted her life to getting women the right to vote. Lampkin, who was born in 1883 and lived until 1965, during the Civil Rights movement, became the first woman to be elected to the national board of the NAACP.

In closing, Sen spoke of John Lewis, Civil Rights icon and longtime Georgia congressman who died from cancer on July 17 at age 80. She stressed how Lewis joined other Civil Rights marchers in March of 1965 to Selma, Ala., to ensure that Black citizens could exercise their constitutional right to vote.

She played a recording by Lewis, in which he explained why he and others decided to march, and he detailed how they were beaten and tear gassed by Alabama state troopers. “I thought I was going to die,” Lewis said. “I had a concussion there at the bridge, and almost 44 years later, I don’t recall how I made it back across that bridge to the streets of Selma.”

He did recall at a church later when he told the audience, “I don’t understand how President [Lyndon] Johnson can send troops to Vietnam, but cannot send troops to Selma, Alabama, to protect people’s right to vote.” President Johnson signed the Voting Rights Act five months later.

To conclude the vigil, Rockbridge NAACP President Reginald Early led the audience in standing and listening to “Lift Every Voice and Sing,” also known as “The Black National Anthem.”