Hundreds rally for peace in the wake of George Floyd’s death

By Randi B. Hagi, assistant editor

About 300 people, donning face masks and holding signs, gathered at Court Square in Harrisonburg on Friday evening to speak out against racism and police brutality following the death of George Floyd, who died Monday after a Minneapolis police officer knelt on his neck.

Stan Maclin, founder of the Harriet Tubman Cultural Center, organized the event.

“We’re taking a stand because when you watch TV live and see a murder, a lynching, a killing right before your eyes, that lets you know what time it is. That lets you know something’s wrong with society,” he said to the crowd.

“As if we are runaway slaves, white people call the police on us when they assume that we are not supposed to be in the places where they witness our presence. The places where they don’t think we are supposed to be. Or because they assume we are violent, criminal,” said Johonna Turner, a professor at Eastern Mennonite University’s Center for Justice and Peacebuilding. “And when the police show up for whatever reason, they don’t hesitate to use brutal and often fatal violence, without consequences. Without concern for any repercussions. With near absolute certainty that the decision to cut down our lives will be declared justified and morally acceptable by the highest courts in this land.”

Many of the signs at the rally bore the names of unarmed black Americans who have been killed in the last few months.

Tyrone Sprague, owner of Sprague’s Mobile Barbershop, asked the attendees to think of their love for their own children.

“I’m glad to see everybody here because, you know what I’m saying, it’s not even my brother, it’s not even my son. But every time I see it on the news, you know what I say? How would I feel if I wake up the next morning and my son is dead? … Just take into consideration that we love our family like you love your family,” Sprague said.

Rebecca Yugga, center, attended the rally because she feels “there’s a lot going on in this world, and as a person of color, you feel hopeless, and you feel like sometimes there’s no change that can come. So when there’s an opportunity like this for people of all races to get together and just get on the same page, I guess we see what’s going on, we know it’s wrong, we want change to happen. Meetings like this kind of just give us hope that things will eventually get better.”

Despite the Facebook event description cautioning attendees to practice social distancing due to COVID-19, people crowded onto the lawn outside of the courthouse, albeit most wearing some sort of mask.

“I’m here for Ahmaud. I’m here for Breonna. I’m here for George. But I’m here for all the people who get brutalized who don’t make it on the news. I’m a survivor,” Julian Turner said to an eruption of applause.

“There’s some little things we can do right where you are. If a friend of yours gives a joke about a person of color, don’t sit there and laugh with them,” said Basil Marin, pastor at New Song Anabaptist Fellowship. “If you can affect just one other person – one other person, maybe that would be a difference, because that person can affect another person as well.”

“I came to Harrisonburg as a refugee and an immigrant,” Nidhi Vinod said. “I want us to see the unseen. Like me, I could have lost my life. And several people right now are losing their lives because we are not opening our eyes, and we are not asking. Are you asking?” 

The attendee on the right, who wished to remain unnamed, said “I have two sons, and I don’t want them to be scared to grow up being young black men in this community. In this world. So I want them to be able to be proud of who they are. Be proud to be black, don’t be scared.”

Jennie Amison applauds a speaker at Friday’s rally.

“I’m just here today because I think if you don’t fight for black rights then you’re not fighting for human rights at all,” said the person on the left, who wished to remain unnamed. “If you’re silent in times, in situations of injustice, then you’re on the side of the oppressor and it’s time to pick a side in America and fight for this country. And fighting for this country means you’re fighting for all the people in the country, especially black people and black lives … We’ve kneeled, we’ve marched, there’s some rioting and some protesting, and I think we’re making it clear that we’re going to do whatever it takes in order to be seen and heard.”

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