Local organizers are planning a silent walk in Leesburg Sunday to honor George Floyd, a black man killed by a Minneapolis police officer earlier this week. The incident, which involved the white officer kneeling on the Floyd's neck, has sparked nationwide protests and renewed loud concerns over police brutality.
Organizers of the Loudoun County event say they will walk in solidarity on the Leesburg Town Hall Green from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m. on Sunday.
“We just can’t stay silent on this,” said Leesburg Town Councilman Ron Campbell, event organizer and founder of Citizens for a Better Leesburg.
On Monday night, four police officers responded to a forgery in south Minneapolis, according to CBS Minnesota. Officers found Floyd’s car at the scene.
Shortly after officers arrived and had an exchange with the unarmed Floyd, he was handcuffed and forced face down on the pavement next to a police cruiser. Floyd remained on the ground as one white police officer knelt down on the back of his neck.
“I cannot breathe. I cannot breathe!” Floyd yelled in a video that surfaced on social media. “Don’t kill me!”
At least seven minutes passed with the officer’s knee in Floyd’s neck. When an emergency medical team arrived, Floyd was unconscious and unresponsive.
Derek Chauvin, the police officer who knelt on Floyd’s neck, was taken into custody and charged with murder on Friday. The other three officers have been fired.
Campbell said he’s past being angry. He said this is the time everyone needs to rally together because such cases impact more than the black community.
“I can't do this alone. We can't do this alone,” Campbell said. “This is not working for the black community. It's not working for the Hispanic community. We should not be isolated as if these issues belong to us. They belong to this country.”
During the past week, Minneapolis has been filled with protests and property damage, including the burning of a police precinct house. Nationwide protests erupted Friday night, with cable news showing scenes in Atlanta and New York, among others.
Floyd’s death comes weeks after other apparent race-related injustices, including the death of 25-year-old Ahmaud Arbery, who was killed by a white person while jogging through Glynn County, Georgia, and 26-year-old Breonna Taylor, who was shot in her home by three police officers serving a “no-knock warrant” for a narcotics investigation.
Phillip Thompson, former president of the Loudoun County NAACP, said the disproportionately negative impact COVID-19 has had on the black community and the aforementioned cases have highlighted how “sick” the country is with racial relations.
“We have not ever had a reckoning on race, and it always comes out in these circumstances,” Thompson said, “And as long as white America walks around with a concept that ... 'We're making this stuff up,’ ‘It's not true,’ ‘We're whining,’ and 'We're making excuses’ — as long as they continue in that direction, there's always going to be these new situations. Always.”
Michelle Thomas, president of the Loudoun County NAACP, described the recent cases as a “rainstorm of hatred” that stems from the White House.
On Friday morning, President Donald Trump (R) in a tweet called protesters “thugs,” offering military aid to Minneapolis. He then added, “Any difficulty and we will assume control but, when the looting starts, the shooting starts.”
He later sought to clarify his remarks, stating that when looting starts, people end up getting shot.
In December 1967, then-Miami Police Chief Walter Headley used the same phrase in a press conference announcing a policy for policing the city’s black neighborhoods.
“He's creating an atmosphere that's similar to the atmosphere of the 1960s — the height of the civil rights movement — and he is espousing those same views,” Thomas said.
Campbell said there will be no speakers for Sunday's event. He encourages everyone to stay safe amid the pandemic by wearing face masks and practicing social distancing guidelines.
Signs are encouraged. Free parking is available in the town hall garage.
Campbell said a poster-sized version of one of Leesburg artist Gertrude Evans’ works, which is featured in the advertisement for Sunday’s event, will be available for people to sign. The poster will be sent to Minneapolis afterwards.
Evans, a longtime Leesburg resident, was inspired to paint the artwork when a police officer choked to death New York resident Eric Garner in July 2014. The officer was fired last year.
In Evans’ piece, she paints three people holding signs in front of the Loudoun County Courthouse in Leesburg.
One sign says “Hands up — don’t shoot,” another says “Black Lives Matter!” and the third notes a similar phrase used by Garner and Floyd: “I can’t breathe.”
Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam (D) reacted to the deaths of Floyd, Taylor and Arbery on Friday night.
“No one should have to carry that type of burden, but for the African American community and communities of color, this is a reality,” Northam said. “The COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated the weight of this struggle, highlighting longstanding systemic inequities in America."
He added, “What we see with our own eyes in Minneapolis, calls all of us to renew our commitment to working for justice—advancing cultural affirmation and respect, access to good health, education, fair housing, business opportunities, voting, and criminal justice reform. This is our shared responsibility—this is a humanity issue.”