Williamsburg residents organize protests highlighting police brutality, develop advocacy networks

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Williamsburg has seen numerous protests and demonstrations since the May 25 death of George Floyd, which has sparked conversations about police brutality and racial inequities across the United States. PHOTO BY AMARIS SACHS

Williamsburg residents gathered in front of the Williamsburg/James City County courthouse Sunday, May 31 to protest systemic injustice against black Americans as part of a nationwide response to the May 25 death of George Floyd. Seated in the heart of colonial America, Williamsburg’s complex racial history lent a backdrop to the message of the peaceful protesters.

Williamsburg residents began organizing in response to the recent deaths of several black Americans at the hands of police. Activists created the Facebook page “Williamsburg Action,” which quickly gathered over 2,000 members, to act as a hub for creating local protests and spreading information. The protest at the courthouse was one of several protests to take place throughout Williamsburg and the Hampton Roads metropolitan area since Floyd’s death, and more demonstrations are planned in the area throughout the coming weeks.

Williamsburg community members gathered at the Williamsburg/James City Courthouse May 31 to protest police brutality highlighted by the death of George Floyd, an unarmed black man. PHOTO BY AMARIS SACHS

Melissa Moss, a writer and editor living in Williamsburg, was one of the individuals who organized the event. Moss argued that Williamsburg’s history gives it a unique place amidst national demonstrations.

“Even though there were rallies happening in Hampton and Newport News, I think it was important for Williamsburg to have its own protest since it has played such a big role in American colonialism and slavery,” Moss said in an email. “History isn’t just in the past; it’s a continuum. In my view, white people living in this town should feel an even greater mandate to step up to the challenge of speaking out against racism. We are living our lives on the very ground of unspeakably cruel and violent crimes against Black men, women and children, and that injustice continues daily in this country. I think Williamsburg should strive to make a name for itself not just for its notable past but for its humanity, for being a place where all white residents stand in solidarity with Black Americans who are in many ways still fighting back against Jim-Crow-like racism in this country.”

“History isn’t just in the past; it’s a continuum. In my view, white people living in this town should feel an even greater mandate to step up to the challenge of speaking out against racism. We are living our lives on the very ground of unspeakably cruel and violent crimes against Black men, women and children, and that injustice continues daily in this country.”

Protesters gathered in front of the courthouse, many carrying signs portraying rallying cries like “Black Lives Matter” and “I can’t breathe.” For protesters like Moss, these signs signaled their allyship with the black community.

“The protest sign I carried said “White Silence is Violence” because I believe that remaining passive and neutral when others are being harmed is being an accessory to the crime,” Moss said.

For other Williamsburg residents like Ja’Keira Crocker, a protest organizer and administrator of the Williamsburg Action Facebook page, the event was personally significant.

“I was at the protest to show Williamsburg and the world that my life matters,” Crocker said in an email. “Especially living in the heart of history, I felt the need to show up and show out for my fellow brothers and sisters around the country and the world.”

Officers from the Williamsburg Police Department were present at the event, directing traffic around the protestors in the intersection. Protestors remained at the intersection for several hours of peaceful demonstration. As residents continue to demand an end to systemic violence against black Americans, some Williamsburg locals like Jalyn Nycole, who attended Sunday’s protest, wanted to keep the momentum going with political action.

“The first protest in Williamsburg was great, it was everything I could imagine,” Nycole said in a video on the Williamsburg Action Facebook page. “This is the first step as a community that we can take to move forward. Continue to protest peacefully and go out and vote. Politics literally controls everything, so your voice matters. It is important. Don’t let politics defeat you, don’t let politics discourage you. Your voice matters.”