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In the Towns of South Hill and Chase City this Saturday, hundreds of people, black and white, took part in Black Lives Matter demonstrations. Top, in South Hill, event organizers James White and Jabin Walker led the procession through downtown, joined by South Hill Police Chief Stuart Bowen and Officer C.B. Fleming. Above, in Chase City Nathasha Pettus led marchers around the Town Pavilion for nine minutes, the length of time a Minneapolis police officer pinned George Floyd under his knee. Floyd’s death in police custody has galvanized protests across the U.S. (Photos by Steve Hinzman and Susan Kyte) / June 17, 2020
In South Hill, a message against oppression

South Hill’s “March for Equality” on Saturday drew a crowd of several hundred people who focused on an anti-racism message of ending injustice and all forms of oppression.

It was one of several Black Lives Matter events taking place in Mecklenburg County in the past week. A similar rally was held earlier in the day in Chase City and a third rally is planned for Clarksville Saturday.

The march, organized by James White and Jabin Walker of South Hill, began with a prayer that segued into the group singing Michael Jackson’s “Man in the Mirror” as they marched through town. It ended with a candlelight vigil in Centennial Park in memory of George Floyd, whose death at the hands of Minneapolis police has galvanized protests across the U.S.

“We are here today to acknowledge the racial inequality and injustice in our nation. The years of oppression that continues to haunt the black race. Oppression dates back to 1619, and the fight for equality that has been going on since Dr. King, Malcolm X, and Rosa Parks. The mistreatment of brothers and sisters of color can only be corrected by God’s love,” Walker said.

He told of the death and mistreatment of many black Americans over the years — George Stinney, a 14-year-old boy wrongfully accused of the murder of two young white girls in South Carolina; Emmett Till, who at age 14 was beaten to death in Mississippi for allegedly flirting with a white woman; Claudette Colvin, who was jailed at age 15 in Montgomery, Ala., for refusing to relinquish her seat to a white woman on a crowded, segregated bus; Rodney King, who was beaten by members of the Los Angeles Police Department; 17-year-old Trayvon Martin, who was shot and killed by George Zimmerman, a security guard while Martin and his father were visiting a friend in Sanford, Fla.; Eric Garner, killed by an NYPD officer who put him in a chokehold after arresting him for selling loose cigarettes; Walter Scott, shot and killed by a North Charleston, S.C., police officer who pulled him over for having a broken taillight on his vehicle, and George Floyd, whose last words were, “I can’t breathe” as a Minneapolis police office pressed his knee into Floyd’s neck for nearly nine minutes.

Floyd’s death has sparked outrage and a mixture of protests and riots around the globe. Unlike many of these events, in which police have sprayed crowds with tear gas, local police have marched with the organizers in a show of unity and to reinforce the message that brutality and racism are not tolerated by the members of law enforcement in Mecklenburg County.

Marching alongside White and Walker at the head of the crowd Saturday were South Hill Police Chief Stuart Bowen and town officer Brandon “C.B.” Fleming.

Mayor Dean Marion, hobbled by an ankle injury, spoke to the crowd after they marched to Centennial Park. “We need to love one another and respect one another and I challenge each of you to look to the left and to the right and whether you are related to them or not. Take time to listen to that person, seize the moment. We owe it to our children and our grandchildren” to unify and work together."

His voice filled with emotion, Bowen said, “What these young men have done to bring you together is very, very powerful. What the Lord has put on my heart to say right now is something I say to my guys all the time. There is only one perfect person that walked on this earth and it is not me and it is not you. We all make mistakes.”

Bowen said he believes the country is in a period of redemption. “It is time to move on and time for us to be together as one, as one United States. It is a learned behavior and if you think about it, in kindergarten and first grade you don’t care [about racial differences]. It is the stuff that gets between us and that is the stuff that we learn, and we need to put a stop to that.”

Throughout his talk, White invoked God’s call to find the light, see each person as beautiful and a divine creation.

“We already know there is a bond in South Hill because I grew up here and the community is strong and we want to further unite that bond on a basis of love, peace, and grace. Once we see each other from those lenses because those are the lenses God sees us through. We can spark hope and hope will spark transformation for peace and love,” White told the crowd.

White said preparing for the march, he was inspired by the words of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, “Hate cannot drive out hate, only love can do that; darkness cannot drive out darkness, only light can do that.” White said, too, that he was hopeful that the light currently being shown on systemic racism “will become a divine source [that] has been imparted into us, so that when we step into any dark situation, the darkness [racism, brutality and injustice] has to flee.”

When asked what they want for an outcome, White replied, “Equality and justice for everyone. People need to come together and use their voice and not be silent and speak out against all racism, injustices and all oppressions that have plagued this country for 400 years now. We will not remember the voice of enemies but the silence of our friends.”

Rally goers speak out at Chase City Pavilion

A small, passionate, peaceful crowd gathered in Chase City Saturday to call for an end to racial injustice and police brutality. It was one of many such rallies held across the country in the third week of nationwide protests that began following the death of George Floyd, a black man who died in Minneapolis police custody on Memorial Day.

The crowd grew to about 70 as organizer Natasha Pettus and others, Chase City Police Chief Jay Jordan, Town Manager Dusty Forbes, Mayor-elect Alden Fahringer and area residents, called for an end to racism and for the town to unite for the betterment of all citizens.

Before the start of Saturday’s event, police from Chase City, the Virginia State Police, and a couple of county sheriff’s deputies lined the street next to the pavilion on Main Street, the site of the planned protest. They were there to protect the rallygoers. Forbes said earlier in the week he received inquiries from outside groups offering to help keep the peace. “You don’t need to come to Chase City,” the town manager said he replied.

No members of any militia group or other groups were visible at the rally. If they were there, they did not make their presence known.

Pettus invited Jordan to address the crowd after first asking him to explain what steps the public could take if they had concerns about their treatment at the hands of local police.

Jordan explained the complaint process, which calls for the aggrieved individual to file a written complaint first with him, and then if unresolved, with the town manager. Jordan assured the crowd there was no place in his police force for officers who conduct police business in the manner demonstrated by the Minneapolis officers involved in the death of George Floyd.

He encouraged the public to reach out to him or any of his officers with concerns, questions, or comments. He also asked those attending the rally to be respectful of his officers who are there to do a job and to keep the public safe.

He acknowledged that not all interactions with police will be viewed as friendly, particularly when a person is stopped for a traffic violation or is suspected of committing a crime. But those interactions should always be respectful, Jordan said, adding that he’s always lived by that rule and expects no less from the members of the Chase City police force.

Pettus said she’d initially posted a message on social media calling for a rally, “as a joke.” As more people reached out to her, she said she soon realized there was a need for a public forum for people in town.

Malyka Walton offered her thoughts about recent events following the death of George Floyd. She spoke of the collective tears “falling from the faces” of people who are “hurt, frustrated, and mad” at the treatment of Floyd and African Americans.

“Our overall survival depends on all of us, black, white, young and old. We need to come together to address the issues of racial injustice. Just imagine how real peace would taste, how it would smell, how it would feel. Let us imagine the beauty of the world where love lives in the hearts of everyone. There is beauty and power in unity. We must be united in heart and mind; one world one people,” Walton said before encouraging those at the rally and others to help “create a world full of love, peace and unity.”

One of the rally attendee, who did not identify herself, used the rally to share her frustration with the lack of opportunities available to children living in Chase City. She said for these children to behave better, to avoid involvements with gangs and drugs, they need recreation and entertainment opportunities that will keep them off the street and out of harms way.

Then, the police would have no need to interact with the young people, she said.

Pettus ended the rally with a nine-minute walk in memory of George Floyd and others who died either at the hands of or because of treatment by police. The nine minutes roughly matches the amount of time Minneapolis officer Derek Chauvin pinned Floyd to the pavement with his knee. Chauvin has since been charged with second degree murder and manslaughter for his role in Floyd’s death.

At the end of the event, Jordan shared snacks of ice cream and bottled water.

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