Several students from Virginia Wesleyan University have participated in protests that were sparked by the death of George Floyd in May, which moved the whole nation with needs of social justice. Some of these marches are not far away from our state. A lot of protests and rallies have been in places like Richmond, Fredericksburg, Washington D.C. and even our local 757 area: Hampton Roads.
Sophomore student Wesley Burton has participated in several protests, including the one in his hometown, Fredericksburg, VA. Burton said that he experienced people getting tear gassed and being shot with rubber bullets. “50 people were arrested for peacefully protesting but fighting for those people and getting those charges dropped was hope for us that we were making progress,” Burton said. The protesting and marches in the perspective of Burton, is something that people should continue doing even if the change is slow.
Burton, like other students, does not protest strictly to the police, but instead they think that the country has a lot of problems that need to be changed immediately.
Senior Asha Richards said, “The situations that are now happening are something that really plays on your emotions, like what is the point of doing anything?” Although Richards did not participate in any of the protests, she had an experience seeing a lot of marches in Maryland after the killing of Freddy Gray in 2015.
“Seeing all this changed me because it can very easily be me. No matter what education I have, where I come from or how I speak, because once they have that frequency of racialization in their heads, all I have to do is be at the wrong place at the wrong time,” Richards said. Richards is worried about those black people that are still afraid and do not want to achieve anything because of the stereotype problem that America has. Richards thinks that a real change can happen, but she expressed that people have been protesting every single year, still, nothing changes.
“The protests all around the country are starting to wake people and realize that the black lives do matter,” said junior Saige Smith, who believes that every single person in the United States should educate themselves and learn about what is happening outside. In addition to protests, she suggests that a change in the country should start by making cop training longer than six months. Richards also thinks that cop training should be longer than six months but she emphasized the use of guns. “Police are not on wartime scenarios, like the military,” Richards said.
Richards thinks that a real change is more about being a good person than systematic reforms. She pointed out the installation of body cameras in some of the police uniforms that it is something effective, but still is not a limit for them to act in a certain way. The most common thing in police cases that involve black people, is that most of these officers do not get repercussions. “Imagine, that you are taking a test, you cheat on the test, but when they caught you, you do not have any repercussions from the school, just a warning that really does not affect you that much,” Richards said. She expresses this analogy to compare it with the multiple cases where some officers are not punished from their actions. “The repercussions of cheating are the fact that stop people from cheating, not because you have to be honest or good, but if there are not any repercussions, why not cheat?” Richards added. To these suggestions, students also add education and police reform to be a part of a change in America. Burton expressed that as a black kid, you do not learn about black history, unless you go to a private school.
A lot of people think that these conflicts are unnecessary for the wealth of the country, and some of them see these protesters as radical and controversial people. Nonetheless, Professor of History Daniel Margolies said that the people that are trying to make BLM as a controversial topic are the same people that are preventing any kind of change and any opportunity to highlight the problems in the system.
“The fact that there has to be a movement like BLM, is the reason of the out of control white supremacy and white supremacist violence in American society,” Margolies said. Also, he added, “the person that has a problem when someone points out racism as problematic is racist.” He suggests that students should learn how the systems of power and culture work around us and also that people need to inform themselves and become readers outside social media.
All of these students suggested to other campus students to join them in solidarity and human compassion. “If you are not black, but you are still out there protesting, I applaud you because it is not something that really affects you,” Burton said. He expressed that the people should use their privilege for good. These students also believe that the campus should be more involved in topics like social justice and BLM, just like they are doing by sending emails at least twice a week about COVID-19. “It is definitely an issue that the campus should talk more about it, just like they do with COVID. This is an issue that has been longer than COVID-19,” Burton said. Also, he added, “Everyone that has a voice and platform should use it to talk about important issues. This is something that needs more coverage.”
However, these students understand that not everyone is able to attend protests. They suggested other ways to support BLM like signing petitions, donating and letting your voice be heard. Margolies explained why people should be supporting BLM: “If one person is not equal, then really none of us are.”
Steven Serrano Cruz