Wednesday, November 29, 2023

Advocates say more needs to be done to end systemic racism and renaming buildings alone won’t do it

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)

After the death of George Floyd, a black man from Minneapolis who died after a white officer pressed a knee on his neck, public outcry reignited the Black Lives Matter movement with nationwide protests.

The movement is demanding police accountability, changes in the criminal justice system and an end to systemic racism.

Organizations and businesses across the country started releasing statements of solidarity with the BLM from decrying racism and bigotry on their websites and social media pages to showing support to Black-owned businesses.

Then there’s the highlighting of the Black experience on movie streaming platforms like Netflix.

Quaker Oats decided to get rid of Aunt Jemima, a logo and image that was based on a racial stereotype of Black slaves; the Washington Redskins football team changed its name to the Washington Football Team.

In the push for justice and racial equality, another movement started to make it’s way across the country: Allies and advocates called for a more inclusive world by removing Confederate statues and memorials and renaming schools named after slave owners.

In the Historic Triangle, the city of Williamsburg voted to remove the Confederate memorial at Bicentennial Park and William & Mary created the Principles of Naming and Renaming Working Group to rename buildings, spaces or other structures on campus, starting with those affiliated with the Confederacy.

But does renaming or removing buildings, structures and other symbols help end systemic racism?

Not necessarily.

“We want to see policy changes in addition to these small gestures and we would like to see those policy changes take priority,” ACLU of Virginia Director of Advocacy Jenny Glass wrote in a text message. “We don’t want to see the movement lose any momentum on account of smaller gestures like these making people think that things are better when they are not.”

“So I would say while we definitely support removal of monuments and stripping racist names and symbols from our cities, we want to see real change in the legislature or else it doesn’t mean anything,” she added.

Glass said she wants to see less investment in police departments and more investment in “community-based solutions” such as support and services for Black and brown communities at a local level.

She said wants more accountability statewide by changing the certification statute, breaking the cycle of firing and rehiring police officers who use excessive force and allowing residents to sue police departments for damages when they injure or kill someone.

“Also passing laws that would reduce interactions between police and Black and brown people like taking away reasons for pretextual stops like “the smell of marijuana” and removing marijuana possession from of our criminal code once and for all,” she added.

The ACLU of Virginia is not the only organization that wants to see more policy changes and end systemic racism in Virginia.

“I have no issue that they change the names,” said York-Williamsburg-James City County NAACP President Brian Smalls. “At the end of the day, I think it’s a symbolic gesture at best. I’m more interested in what policies are they willing to change.”

The local attorney and Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Committee chairman said he can do without surface level changes, something he compared to “throwing a bone out there,” adding the criminal justice system, housing discrimination, the school systems and the school-to-prison pipeline are real issues which need to be changed.

“If the thought process is ‘let’s just change the names, and maybe folks will quiet down’…that’s not what is wanted,” he said. “What’s wanted is more policy changes that will lead the end of systemic racism.”


Julia Marsigliano
Julia Marsigliano
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 You can follow her on Twitter at @jmarsigliano

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