“We need equity,” 19-year-old Joshua St. Hill told a crowd of roughly a thousand people Sunday night at the UVA Rotunda. “We can’t take our foot off the gas.”
Keeping their foot on the gas is exactly what protesters in Charlottesville have been doing over the past two weeks, since the murder of George Floyd under the knee of a Minneapolis police officer. In a city that, despite the events of 2017, is not noted for its activism, residents here have turned out by the hundreds and thousands to protest racism and police brutality, at massive marches on May 30, June 7, and June 8, and at other smaller demonstrations too.
Nationwide, as protests have continued night after night, and police in many cities have responded with brutal force as damning as Bull Connor’s fire hoses and attack dogs, there’s a feeling that a tipping point has been reached, that things might actually change. In Minneapolis, the City Council has vowed to dismantle the police force. In New York and L.A., mayors have pledged to cut police budgets and move the money to community programs. And in Richmond, leaders are calling for a police civilian review board and a new way of responding to calls involving mental health crises.
In Charlottesville, City Council appointed the final member of our Police Civilian Review Board last week, though it has so far ignored activists’ demands to implement the stricter bylaws an initial board submitted last September. School board members have endorsed pulling cops from our public schools. Council members have been meeting about removing Confederate statues from downtown. And Albemarle County Commonwealth’s Attorney Jim Hingeley has vowed to continue the progressive criminal justice reforms put in place to mitigate the spread of COVID-19, like limiting pretrial detention and supporting alternatives to incarceration.
Whether these and other changes will stick depends, in part, on whether residents will keep paying attention, and keep the pressure on, in the weeks and months ahead.
“We can’t use Black Lives Matter as a hashtag,” PVCC student Tyler Tinsley said on Sunday, at the march he helped organize. “We gotta keep doing it every day.”