Hundreds of protesters, with signs in hands and chants in mind, gathered at Henderson Lawn at noon on June 1. The protesters migrated to the Blacksburg Police Department chanting, “Black lives matter” and “no justice, no peace” before having a moment of silence in honor of the recent police brutality killings.
George Floyd and Breonna Taylor’s killings sparked protests all over the country and brought police brutality conversations back in the national spotlight. In Minnesota, officers responded to a call reporting that George Floyd gave counterfeit money to a convenience store. George Floyd was then pinned down with an officer’s knee on his neck causing his death. The entire incident was captured on camera and went viral.
Breonna Taylor was killed in her Louisville, Kentucky, home by police who forced their way in, surprising her and her boyfriend who thought the officers were burglars. A lawsuit filed against the Louisville metro police department claimed that three officers blindly fired more than 20 shots into the apartment after Taylor’s boyfriend fired at the officers in self-defense.
Blacksburg protesters chanted George Floyd and Breonna Taylor’s names as they walked from the police station to main street. Alongside their chants came honks of support from cars stuck in traffic and people waving “Black lives matter” signs from inside their cars. The crowd eventually came to a stop at the College Avenue intersection and chanted a mixture of “Black lives matter,” “I can’t breathe” and “George Floyd” chants.
“I was crying earlier, but when you see the look on people’s faces when they’re protesting and see how much everyone really cares about this, it really touches you,” said Michael Wrig, Blacksburg native. “I don’t understand why the U.S. government doesn’t see that look on our faces that this is serious and change needs to come. Black people have rights, we’re people.”
From College Avenue, the protesters made a loop through Virginia Tech’s campus, eventually ending up at the police station station again. Individual protesters spoke about the Black Lives Matter movement and their experiences.
There were multiple protesters who emphasized the importance of using privilege to help the Black lives movement. There was also immense encouragement for fellow protesters to continue to educate themselves about Black perspectives and issues. They also asked non-black people of color to call out friends, family and their community on their bias and racism toward Black people.
“White people, you can tell them to educate themselves, but if they don’t want to be educated then they won't be educated,” said Myleah Akers, a sophomore at Virginia Tech. “We as Black people can’t train white people to educate themselves. I can encourage you to educate yourself, but I can’t make you educate yourself and that's where I draw the line.”
Several protesters encouraged others to acknowledge the good work police do. The speakers pointed out how police officers helped block streets off for them as they marched throughout Blacksburg and acknowledged the part Blacksburg Police play in New River Valley’s “Dialogue on Race” conversations.
Protesters also reminded people that they have to keep authority figures in check through election or by calling them out in general.
“After (Virginia Tech’s sexual assault walkout) we wanted changes, we wanted something to happen,” said Anna Cheema, political science, psychology double major and rising Virginia Tech senior. “Tim Sands did send out an email, but he said in the email that ‘us as a community need to be better.’ What does that mean? That doesn’t mean anything. You have to make sure you recognize the authority figures and their long messages about how they’re so heartfelt — recognize that means nothing. Call them out on it. We need the authority figures to do something.”
Francesca Shaer, a student at New River Valley Community College and NRV local, organized the event. “I was tired of watching my Black siblings die,” Shaer said.
Shaer made a flyer and spread it around social media, which was shared, liked, loved thousands of times resulting in the crowd that came out.
“I was not expecting this many people to come,” Shaer said. “I was worried not a lot of people would show up. I am so amazed and proud of everyone who came out.”
President Sands and Vice President for Strategic Affairs and Diversity Menah Pratt-Clarke released a joint statement addressing the recent police killings.
Shaer is open to participating and organizing more protests in the New River Valley in the future.
“Police brutality needs to stop, but we need to start with the system,” said one of the organizers of the protest and Blacksburg resident Juliana Krtlma. “We need to change the laws that are in place, and we’re not going to be able to do that if people are sitting in their homes, sitting on their boats, going to the river, posting instagram pictures of their leisure when an entire revolution is going on. Join the revolution or stay in the past.”