Monday, May 23, 2022

‘I can’t breathe’: Cry of protesters resonate in James City County

Black Lives Matter protest in James City County Monday, June 1, 2020. (WYDaily/ Julia Marsigliano)
Black Lives Matter protest in James City County Monday, June 1, 2020. (WYDaily/ Julia Marsigliano)

(Editor’s note: Gallery of photos below the story)

The sounds of chanting and marching footsteps echoed through the streets of James City County as hundreds came out to protest against police brutality Monday night.

Front and center, the incident that started a chain-reaction of protests around the nation was the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis.

Hundreds at the James County Recreation Center started off with a prayer.

“Lord God, we stand in need for change,” organizer Candice Bartlett led the prayer with protesters. “You said if we asked you for change, you would deliver. And we need to stand on that.”

Bartlett said when she first posted the idea on Facebook, she didn’t expect it to be such a large event. She expected it to be just her and a few friends but once Callie Knight-Van Dyke, with Williamsburg Action, shared the event, more and more people became interested.

“We just wanted to create a Facebook group…for people to meet so we can actually find voices that are important,” Knight-Van Dyke said before the protest. “For me it was important because of the privilege we have in this town. We live in a white bubble and we’re really lucky because there’s protests going on in [other places] where there’s more people of color.”

“We’re really lucky to have our white skin to protect us,” she added. “So, we can actually use our voice to make our message heard.”

The march started at the Rec Center with crowds coming out with protest signs, shirts and chants.

Bartlett and her daughter, Ashley Lawrence, led the gathering in a march at 6 p.m. around Longhill Road that resulted in protesters peacefully disrupting traffic at multiple locations.

Most protesters dressed in black clothes and wore face masks but did not social distance. Chants ranged from “George Floyd” and “No justice, no peace” to “Black Lives Matter” and “I can’t breathe.” At one point, some chanted “hi ho, hi ho, white supremacy’s got to go” and “Enough is enough.”

At the intersection of Longhill and Ironbound Roads, protesters took a knee, stopped for at least five minutes with police cars parked behind them in the intersection, blocking traffic in all directions.

Three men acted as human barriers and body guards for the group, standing in between the protesters and oncoming traffic with black signs spray painted with the red letters: BLM.

At one point a person walked in the street to which organizers yelled, get out of the street and another man yelled at a police officer on a motorcycle on the main road, “are you going to ram us?”

But despite the disruptions, motorists that drove by honked their horns and some held out signs of encouragement.

The crowd consisted of people from all walks of life, races and backgrounds that came together not only to protest the murder of George Floyd, but to take a stand for the Black Lives Matter Movement.

And for many, the matter became a personal reflection on their own loved ones.

Mother Domiana Johnson said she came out with her two children to show them what it means to stand up for what’s right. She hopes peaceful protests such as this one will help make a change not just nationally, but in small communities such as Williamsburg.

“I have a black son and a black daughter who will eventually grow up in this world and it’s my duty as a parent to change that world for them if I have to,” she said. “My daughter is with me right now and she sees that if her mom is brave enough and strong enough to stand up to those who may have more power than me, then she’ll know she can do it, too.”

Kevin Hawkins also was concerned for his young loved ones. He said when he marches, he thinks of his nephew who has frequent seizures. He said he can’t imagine what would happen if his nephew were around a police officer having a seizure because it might put him in danger.

“Enough is enough,” Hawkins said during a traffic disruption. “Us black people have had enough and we’re sick and tired of it. I’ve had enough, this is what [Colin] Kaepernick was talking about…now everyone is kneeling, too.”

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Julia Marsiglianohttp://wydaily.com
Julia Marsigliano is a multimedia reporter for WYDaily. She covers everything on the Peninsula from local government and law enforcement agencies to family-run businesses and weather updates. Before WYDaily, she covered Hampton and Newport News for WYDaily’s sister publication, HNNDaily before both publications merged in December 2018. Julia was born in Tokyo, Japan and moved to Long Island, New York in 2001. A true New Yorker, she loves pizza, bagels and good Chinese food. Send comments, tips and other tidbits to julia@localvoicemedia.com. You can follow her on Twitter at @jmarsigliano

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