Black Lives Matter Protest at VCU

Last Friday, Sept. 16, Terence Crutcher was shot and killed by a police officer in Tulsa, Oklahoma. Crutcher was unarmed, and on his way back home from community college to his four children. The news broke with several different angles showing the shooting, including an aerial view from a helicopter where the police officer describes him as a “bad dude.” 

By Tuesday, Sept. 20 we all knew his name. As per usual, the news spread fast over the Twitter, this time using #TerenceCrutcher. Celebrities like Jesse Williams, Steve Harvey and Rhetta are just some of the celebrities that expressed their emotions via the hashtag. 

In the wake of the event, students from Virginia Commonwealth University rallied together in Monroe Park for a conversation about the injustices and to march in solidarity with their community.

Reyna Smith, one of the event coordinators said, "We are just out here to prove something that's already proven; that black lives matter, so if all lives really mattered, would I be out here? No, I probably wouldn't."  

The attendees were a mix from people of the Richmond Community, VCU students and faculty, from all races.

"I do [like that there are different ethnicities] but I also hold space that this is about black people right now... I just think it's funny that I don't see European Americans saying that their lives matter, so I have questions. But I do like that there are different races because this is like civil rights movements part II - not even part II because the civil rights movement never ended. But we wouldn't be anywhere without allies, without people of different ethnicities [and] different races," Smith said.

                                                                                                        Reyna Smith (left) in Monroe Park for Black Lives Matter Rally

Trayvon Fulton, another organizer, who met Smith at a previous rally said, "We just want to come and bring some awareness to people [to] understand that it's something that we need to do to stop this, So we're just going to come out here, and get some positive feedback, some ideas some thoughts, let people cry, shout, jump, whatever they need to do to get it out because people are grieving and we need to have the platform to do this." 

                                                                                                  Crowd gathering in Monroe Park, Richmond VA for Black Lives Matter rally

When asked about the police presence surrounding Monroe Park for the rally, Fulton said, "I think it's awesome. You know, not all cops are bad cops, so I do think that it's awesome that we do have police presence here because the goal is to keep us safe and not to do any harm to us. So it is good as long as they know why we're here, and as long as they're about the agenda of protecting, not hurting." 

Not everyone agreed however.

Smith said "I think it's funny how police are posted already. But whenever there's demonstration for other things; student debt, LGBTQA+ rights, where are y'all, you're not there. It's the same number of people, so why are y'all out here now?" 

                                                                                                Trayvon Fulton (left) in Monroe Park, Richmond VA for Black Lives Matter rally

As the event started, Smith got up on a bench to speak to those that came to the rally. Smith said, "As you all know one of the triggers that brought us all out here was another unarmed killing of Terence Crutchard, however I'm out here for all black lives, no asterisk. So I want black gay lives, I want black trans lives, black femme lives, black queer lives. I want all black lives."  

                                                                                                     Zaza Willis talking about black pain, and urging to stop sharing the videos                                                                                                                                                                                   Harold Claros holding a sign in solidarity

As people spoke about black pain, queer black lives, and everyone gathered for the march to the VCU police station, a voice from the back shouted "ALL LIVES MATTER." The voice was an unknown white woman, standing less than 10 feet away from Smith. Smith asked her to join them to have a discussion on why black lives matter.

When Smith asked the woman why "all lives matter," the woman simply kept repeating, "they just do" and "all lives matter." 

Smith said, "If all lives really did matter I wouldn't be out here protesting."

The woman then walked away. 

                                                                                                   Left to right: Jafar Cooper, Reyna Smith, Trayvon Fulton, unknown woman

                                                                 

Smith explained to the crowd that they would be marching and chanting to the VCU police station, because they've also been known to racially profile students on and around campus. The crowd walked up Laurel Street, onto Broad Street, chanting "Black Lives Matter!" "No justice, no peace! No racist police!" and "Show me what democracy looks like! This is what democracy looks like!" 

Allies on their bikes blocked off traffic as the protesters crossed the streets and later Richmond police helped direct traffic as protesters reached Broad Street. As they made their way to campus student support kept everyone motivated and chanting as loudly as they could. Some people in shops and restaurants stared outside toward the protesters while others nodded in approval and even lifted their hands up in solidarity. 

After they reaching the VCU police station, they held a moment of silence in remembrance of all the black lives lost to police brutality.

Protesters then moved to the compass to talk about the importance of the Black Lives Matter movement, and how police brutality affects everyone including veterans. 

Photography by Chelsea Schmidt Photography