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Black Action Now hosts die-in, reacts to Johnson's arrest

VCU community engages in demonstration

The Richmond chapter of Black Action Now — an organization that aims to promote awareness of African-American issues — held a protest and die-in on Wednesday in support of Martese Johnson, drawing roughly 50 Virginia Commonwealth University students.

Ashleigh Shackelford, the lead community organizer of Black Action Now, said the organization decided to host the rally after hearing about the response of the University student body to the arrest of Johnson. In part because the incident was so close to home, the organization wanted to clearly establish solidarity, Shackelford said.

“We were devastated by the arrest and violent brutalization of Martese Johnson,” Shackelford said in an email. “After hearing that there was a protest at U.Va. for justice for Martese, we knew we had to do something at VCU and in Richmond to show support and bring visibility to these issues in our state.”

Shackelford said that because the event had to be planned so quickly, the organization relied heavily on social media and word of mouth to mobilize protesters.

“We used social media to our advantage and made sure to reach out to all of our networks in Richmond and at VCU,” Shackelford said. “Honestly, there are a lot of people in our community ready to march and protest at a moment's notice because this is personal.”

VCU senior Chris Kindred, one of the event’s attendees, said he learned about the event from a friend and decided to spend the night at the protest.

“I got a text through one of my friends who was very close in proximity to the organizing,” Kindred said. “I went ahead and joined in and I was there for the whole night.”

Kindred said the atmosphere of the protest was anxious because of police presence. He said the Richmond Police were following the protesters to a greater extent than the VCU Police were, even though the rally mostly took place on VCU’s campus.

“A lot of us were ready for arrest that night because it was a higher number of police presence than usual, and VCU Police wasn’t involved as much as Richmond PD was,” Kindred said.

Members of Black Action Now said the police monitoring were less concerned with ensuring protesters’ safety than they had been at past protests. Whereas the police had shut down streets and seemed supportive in the past, this time they brought six police cars and eight police on bicycles to follow the 50 participants, Shackelford said.

“The police were in full effect in trying to shut us down and arrest us,” Shackelford said. “That tells me that we've become an inconvenience and that they're tired, and expected us to be tired.”

Despite dissatisfaction with the police, both Shackelford and Kindred said they felt the rally was successful in making the issue more visible.

“It definitely established that we do care even if someone doesn’t die, we still care about this issue and as long as we see cases like this, we will be out here protesting,” Kindred said. “I think it accomplished something in the fact that it made waves. It brought a lot of people's’ attention.”

Both Shackelford and Kindred said the rally was part of a long-term goal to end police brutality, especially towards black Americans. However, Shackelford said protesters could not do this alone, and called on the state to do more to end the issue.

“Justice would be the charges being dropped, his school record and criminal record going untarnished, compensation for his injuries and emotional weight of dealing with violent forms of racism and receiving a full apology from the authority figures that brutalized him and criminalized him wrongfully,” Shackelford said.

She said she hopes to see more protests in the future to keep the issue in the spotlight.

“I think it's amazing that so many people from U.Va. have come to support Martese and taking a stand against institutionalized racism,” Shackelford said. “I definitely expect to see students and the Charlottesville community to work together to shut it down and keep making noise until they're heard and justice is served.”

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