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Peaceful protest held in downtown Lynchburg, another planned for Tuesday, amid national unrest

Peaceful protest held in downtown Lynchburg, another planned for Tuesday, amid national unrest

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Protesters in Lynchburg peacefully marched through the streets of downtown Lynchburg on Saturday morning, walking from Lynchburg Community Market up the stairs of Monument Terrace to the front steps of the Lynchburg Police Department. About 100 protesters waved “Black Lives Matter” signs and chanted to bring attention to the death of George Floyd, a black man who died in police custody in Minneapolis early last week.

Local leaders, who did not attend but later heard of the event, were pleased to hear of the gathering and have planned a second event for 11 a.m. Tuesday. The Lynchburg branch of the NAACP, the Lynchburg Voters League and various community leaders will gather at the top of Monument Terrace, 900 Court St., to talk openly about racism and the unrest spreading across the nation. The local chapter of the NAACP received the OK from the national NAACP on Friday to host the gathering, at which time organizers applied for a parade permit from the Lynchburg Police Department.

The Rev. James Coleman, one of Tuesday’s speakers, calls the gathering a “call for unity.”

“In the midst of the coronavirus pandemic it has created a deeper awareness of inequities in our community and those inequities need to be addressed,” Coleman said Saturday after praising Lynchburg Police Department Chief Ryan Zuidema, who Friday addressed via social media both the national unrest and the Lynchburg community.

In a “statement to the community” via Facebook, Chief Zuidema wrote: “What happened on Monday in Minneapolis is unconscionable, horrifying, and is not representative of the police profession. The Lynchburg Police Department does not and will not accept this type of behavior by members of our department. In every interaction, our officers will treat all individuals with respect and dignity at all times.”

Zuidema went on to publicly share the message he delivered to LPD staff Friday, which said: “During the arrest, Mr. Floyd told officers he couldn’t breathe and bystanders asked them to get off his neck. These bystanders filmed the actions of the officer kneeling on Mr. Floyd’s neck for approximately seven minutes. This video was very difficult for me to watch, as I’m sure it is for anyone.”

“The LPD has forbidden the technique used by this officer since at least the 1970s. ... As we always do, we must ensure that every single individual we come into contact with is treated with respect and fairness, no matter what they look like or where they live. When someone is in your custody, you are completely responsible for their safety, health, and well-being. As you know, anytime someone in your custody alerts you to a medical issue, you must immediately request medical assistance. It is also your duty to intervene if you see another officer taking inappropriate action. If you have any questions about this, or about the associated training, please contact a supervisor immediately.”

LPD Lt. Luke Bryan dropped off a printout of the message to event organizer Mirgina Sheffey early Saturday.

“The one thing we are going to say [Tuesday] is ‘have peaceful protests,’” The Rev. Carlos Hutcherson, president of the Lynchburg branch of the NAACP, said Saturday afternoon. “Violence doesn’t do anything, and people destroying their own property is not the way to go. ... That’s happened so many times.”

Hutcherson expects several hundred or more people to gather to talk about a string of recent incidents Tuesday, including the Breonna Taylor shooting, the Ahmaud Arbery shooting, the death of Floyd and remarks made about Gov. Ralph Northam and those recently made by Liberty University President Jerry Falwell Jr.

“We are encouraging people to come,” Hutcherson said. “The most important thing is that we need to learn we need to think about the fact that hate does not bring love, hate only brings hate and we’ve got to get beyond these actions that caused terrible reactions in many instances and we’ve seen it too many times,” Hutcherson said.

Guest speakers Tuesday include Antoine Edwards, a state officer with NAACP; local pastor James Coleman; Leslie King with Black in the Burg; Cheryl-Glass Cabell with the voters league; and two or three others.

On Saturday, Glass-Cabell said she was in tears watching the video of Minneapolis officer Derek Chauvin with his knee on Floyd’s neck. It hurt even more when a child asked if what they were seeing on TV was real.

“It’s frightening, and every time you see it you wonder if there is going to be any justice behind it,” Glass-Cabell said.

She looks for Tuesday to be the start of an honest and open conversation about racism and diversity in Lynchburg. It is a chance for residents to hear how seeing these incidents affects the black community and for the black community to learn about the resources that exist locally, so when they experience racism they know how to deal with it and who they can call on.

“Now is the time for our little city to sit down and have these talks about racism,” she said.

Amy Trent is the Editor. Reach her at (434) 385-5543

Amy Trent is the Editor. Reach her at (434) 385-5543

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