What started out as a day of peaceful demonstrations in the Fredericksburg area over the death of George Floyd turned ugly later as authorities arrested defiant protesters who blocked traffic in North Stafford and dispersed an unruly group near the city’s police headquarters.
At least six people were arrested in North Stafford Sunday afternoon, hours after a peaceful rally at the Stafford Marketplace shopping center nearby.
In Fredericksburg, police used what appeared to be tear gas to break up a protest near police headquarters Sunday night. Police said there were no arrests in that incident, but the city sent an alert shortly after 10 p.m. urging residents to shelter in place because of a large demonstration downtown.
I’m in downtown #FXBG - earlier today protests were peaceful - I am here.... not race baiting but white kids just flipped over trash cans and riding around in pickup trucks and cars revving engines - listen to this black kid “were better than that..... tear up their own place...” pic.twitter.com/g8LoLSLTy4— Delegate Joshua Cole (@JoshuaCole) June 1, 2020
City Manager Tim Baroody declared a Declaration of Local Emergency and curfew for the city of Fredericksburg which began at 11:30 p.m. and extended through 6:00 a.m. this morning.
The Black Lives Matter rally at Stafford Marketplace was billed on social media as “peaceful, unless provoked.” The simple black-and-white notice asked participants to bring signs and masks, but did not list a point of contact, a telephone number, a precise location for the rally at the mall or the purpose of the event.
Businessman Vernon Green thought the announcement looked suspicious, and after seeing how some protests across the nation over the death of George Floyd had turned violent, the African American founder and CEO of Stafford-based government contractor GCubed decided to personally get involved in the event himself.
Floyd died on Memorial Day while pinned to the pavement former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin, whose knee was on Floyd’s neck for eight minutes. Chauvin has been arrested and charged with murder.
A video of the incident widely circulated on social media, prompting protests across the country. Many of those protests in other cities have turned violent.
Green, who has deep roots in the community through charitable projects for veterans, reached out to friends to see if they knew the origin of the announcement. “No one could give me an answer, which gave me cause,” he said.
Green feared outside influence may have had a hand in the North Stafford invitation, so he quickly assembled a list of community leaders to invite to ensure a peaceful, productive tone be the focus of the event. A number of Stafford officials—Del. Josh Cole, Supervisors Crystal Vanuch and Tom Coen, Sheriff David Decatur, school Superintendent Scott Kizner and County Administrator-select Fred Presley—showed up, along with more than 150 attendees who assembled and held a peaceful rally.
“Hopefully [the original invitation] wasn’t sent for nefarious reasons,” said Green. “The reason why we’re here, is to make sure whatever message is being sent is done in a peaceful manner.”
But after he and other officials left and most of the crowd dispersed, what authorities said was a different group of about 50 began a protest. According to the Sheriff’s Office, some eventually blocked traffic on Garrisonville Road and tossed objects at passing cars. Decatur then declared their protests to be an unlawful gathering and Stafford sheriff’s deputies, who had a sparse presence at the rally earlier, responded and broke up the demonstration.
“They were blocking the roadway and were given numerous warnings,” said sheriff’s Maj. Shawn Kimmitz. “They kneeled on the roadway and at one point stretched out in one line linked together, stopping all east and west traffic on Garrisonville Road in the area of the overpass.”
Kimmitz said at least six people were arrested and more could be charged. The charges include unlawful assembly, resisting arrest, assault on law enforcement officers and possession of a firearm.
Problems also arose Sunday night when a group of 200 to 300 people marched toward the Fredericksburg Police Department, a couple of hours after a peaceful rally outside the station ended without incident. In the later event, police said the crowd had repeatedly blocked streets on the march from downtown to the station and kicked and pounded on cars, but was dispersed by tear gas.
Earlier in the day, between 150 and 200 people marched Sunday afternoon from the Moss Free Clinic on the Mary Washington Hospital campus to U.S. 1, where they stopped for a short time in front of the Eagle Village Shopping Center and chanted slogans such as “no justice, no peace” and “hands up, don’t shoot.” The march was peaceful and many passing cars honked their horns in apparent support.
At 5 p.m., a group gathered downtown for a short demonstration. Like a march Saturday from the Mayfield community to City Hall, it was peaceful and without incident, but police said some of those protesters later were involved in the march on police headquarters.
At 6 p.m., a group of about 100 rallied peacefully on the sidewalk in front of the Fredericksburg Police Department on Cowan Boulevard. The Rev. Kevin Poole of Mount Holy Baptist Church in Unionville said he organized the rally so people could express their feelings.
“A lot of people are mourning for George Floyd,” he said in an interview before the rally. “This one is for people who feel as if they have been treated unfairly by police officers and the judicial system.”
Several protesters addressed the crowd, which was a mix of blacks and whites, giving their opinions on a wide range of topics, including police violence, voting and civil rights.
“We’re not here angry,” one protester said. “We’re hurting.”
At the Stafford Marketplace rally, the Rev. Gary Holland, of Word of Faith Christian Fellowship Church in Dumfries, told the group that many people view life through a set of lenses that causes them not to give others the same level of fairness that’s given to those they agree with.
“This is an opportunity for everyone to come together peacefully,” said Holland. “We all have the same capacity for love, for compassion, for empathy, for treating each other fairly, giving each other the same benefit of the doubt.”
Cole also addressed the large crowd, and said elected officials must hear from their constituents to enact change that’s needed in their communities.
“We have ideas, but we want to make sure those ideas work for you,” said Cole. “Now’s the time to lift up your voices, now’s the time to blow up their emails, now’s the time to blow up their office phones and let them know that enough is enough.”
Cole, the first African American to represent Fredericksburg in the General Assembly, told a crowd at the rally in downtown Fredericksburg on Saturday that he hopes to enact change during the next legislative session, where he’ll be advocating for a community and citizen review board for police incidents.
Green said community leaders also came to Sunday’s event to help open the doors of communication between citizens and Stafford officials.
“If we have those hard conversations, if we talk about the issues, if we sit down and come to an agreement, and then make a plan to push them towards legislature … that’s the way you handle business,” said Green. “You don’t do it outside of the system, you do it in the system.”
Green also spoke to the group on the importance of voting, and how many citizens are simply not putting enough effort into casting their votes on election day.
“A lot of times we’re focused on the White House, when a lot of the decisions that are being made are being made right here at our courthouse,” said Green. “We have resources, avenues, and access. We can do things, we can make things happen.”