“Here a great personal deed has room; A great deed seizes upon the hearts of the whole race of men,
Its effusion of strength and will overwhelms law, and mocks all authority and all argument against it.”
Walt Whitman, “Song of the Open Road.”
A group comprised of interdenominational ministers joined forces with the 757 Chapter of Black Lives Matter to issue a call to action, marching against perceived racial bias and what they view as economic cronyism in Virginia Beach. Over an estimated 200 citizens joined them for a peaceful protest march.
AltDaily correspondents firsthand witnessed officers directing some of the marchers to remove face masks worn with the intention of shielding their identity from media reporting, citing a statute that makes wearing masks in public illegal despite widespread concerns as to First Amendment rights. It should be noted that the city billed the organizing group in excess of five thousand dollars to issue the permit, claiming a need for an enhanced police presence. If attendance figures are correct, there was one police officer for every five participants.
Minister Dr. James Allen from the Virginia Beach Interdenominational Ministers Conference previously issued a statement on the march:
“The Faith, Freedom, and Justice March is a statement to Virginia Beach, the state, and the nation that we the people are indeed what makes America great. Virginia Beach is a tremendous city with unlimited potential. But it can’t be the greatest city in the world if it is not the greatest city for all its citizens.”
Virginia Beach City Council Members — Jessica P. Abbot, Ben Davenport, and John Moss — made speeches in favor of both the event and ensuring racial fairness before joining the march. Football Hall of Fame inductee, Bruce Smith, led protesters along with other notable community leaders. Smith could be considered to be the prime initiator of the event — having called repeatedly for a racial disparity study to be conducted in Virginia Beach after raising concerns that he and other African Americans in the business community were not receiving fair consideration in regards to permits. The city’s Mayor initially resisted the idea of a study, only to announce a few days ago that they would be moving ahead, and issuing a request for proposal to take bids from independent contractors to perform the work.
After the march, speeches were given by other community organizers, including the head of 757 Black Lives Matter, as well as the Co-Chair of the Virginia Beach Democratic Committee, Susan Hippen. Though it was stated on multiple occasions that the march was non-partisan there were several Democratic candidates for Congressional and statewide office in attendance, as well as canvassers for gubernatorial candidate Tom Periello. Lt. Governor and also candidate Ralph Northam was unable to attend due to the budget process currently taking place in the State Legislature, where his presence is required, but a statement was read on his behalf.
The marchers conducted themselves in a civil manner, chanting — “This is what Democracy looks like.”
All photography by Jeff Hewitt