When George Floyd was killed by Minneapolis police last month, it was the last domino to fall in an effect created by longstanding racism and police brutality against African Americans in the United States.
In the wake of Floyd’s death on Memorial Day, protests have erupted in every state across the country. Hundreds of thousands of people have taken to the streets in more than 2,000 cities and towns. In most cities, the demonstrations were peaceful. Some protests, as near as Richmond, Fredericksburg and Washington, have included some altercations with police.
Since Floyd was killed, two protests have taken place in downtown Culpeper; one drew more than 800 people. On both occasions, the proceedings were well-organized and nonviolent, something that protesters and police take pride in.
“I think the biggest difference between what’s happened in our community as opposed to some of the others, where things have gone off the rails, is the fact that there’s been transparency between law enforcement and the protesters,” Culpeper police Capt. Tim Chilton said in an interview last week. “I met with the organizers prior to the last two events to basically get their feelings on what they wanted to do. From there, we went over everything from point A to point B.”
The first event, which involved over 100 protesters, was held on June 1, and was put together in about a two-hour timeframe. The second, on June 6, involved more meticulous planning to accommodate the 800-plus who participated.
Chilton said the preparation for the latter event involved staying in contact with the organizers on a regular basis, helping facilitate donations of things such as pallets of water from local businesses, and planning a safe route down Main Street with limited police visibility.
“We did that entire event with only about 12 officers, and the majority of those were on bicycles,” Chilton said. “We just shut down the road on both sides and let them march. We didn’t want to be seen, because it was all about letting them have their voices be heard.”
One of the organizers was Brianna Reaves, a 2018 Eastern View High School graduate who recently helped launch the NAACP’s newly chartered chapter at the University of Mary Washington.
“Things went according to plan,” Reaves said of the demonstrations. “We wanted to make sure that kids, as well as adults, were able to come out and participate in them within a safe environment. Particularly with the second one, it was definitely helpful to know in advance what the route was going to be and where the cops were stationed at. Working together prevented any chance of confrontation there.”
Reaves’ cousin and fellow organizer, 32-year-old Brandon Miles, echoed Chilton’s sentiments about transparency being key to the success of the gatherings.
“We knew how we wanted to do things in advance, and it was the right way,” Miles said in an interview. “We communicated that to [Chilton] up front, so we were all on the same page.”
Chilton emphasized that the high standards of people such as Reaves, Miles and Jaylyn Hinton, another of the organizers, was exactly the foundation the events needed.
“They’re all people who are very invested in our community, and they weren’t going to allow anyone to come in and taint the message they were trying to get across,” he said. “And that’s what I’ll remember most about the [protests]. Like so many across the country, they came from a place of anger and frustration, but they channeled that into something positive and meaningful.”
Miles said everything would’ve been for naught if the people involved had let that anger and frustration take things down a dark path.
“We want people out there who want to have meaningful conversations about racism and injustice,” he said. “And those things aren’t about politics, they aren’t about the left or the right. There are Black people on both sides of party lines who just want what’s right, and that isn’t to devalue any other race or ethnicity, but merely to make others understand that Black lives should matter. And until they do, I don’t think all lives can matter.”