RICHMOND, Va. — Thousands of protesters marched Saturday through the streets of what was once the capital of the Confederacy in the "5000 Man March Against Racism" that started and ended at the monument of Gen. Robert E. Lee.
The three-mile route passed several Confederate monuments as protesters chanted in support of Black Lives Matter and held signs denouncing police brutality and systemic racism. The march, which started four years ago as the “1000 Man March,” grew considerably this year as several thousand people decried racism, discrimination and hate.
Similar protests were held in other U.S. cities Saturday as demonstrations prompted by the death of George Floyd, a Black man who died May 25 under the knee of a Minneapolis police officer, continued for a third straight weekend.
In Richmond, marchers returned to the Lee statue, where Tavares Floyd, a cousin of George Floyd, addressed the crowd.
“George carried the weight of a nation that is guided by white supremacy,” Floyd said. “A weight of police brutality that has permeated the Black community for far too long. And I weep because George was a man that should have been right here today. But instead his life didn't matter.”
Organizers intentionally held the event at the Lee statue, which Gov. Ralph Northam has promised to remove. Earlier in the week, a judge granted a temporary injunction to halt the removal for 10 days in a lawsuit challenging the governor’s authority to take it down. The suit was filed by the descendant of a family that deeded the land the monument sits on.
“We picked the Robert E. Lee monument with the idea that this would be the last big gathering here,” said organizer Triston Harris. “What it means to us is, as we see the statue and we see the graffiti, see all of the Black Lives Matter support that’s now upon the statue, it's extremely ... I want to say, well ... thrilling, to see some of the ideas and see some of the creativity that has been placed upon the statute.”
In some places, protesters have begun taking down statues themselves. Just days ago, they removed one of Confederate President Jefferson Davis a few blocks from the Lee statue on Monument Avenue, and in Portsmouth, Virginia, a man suffered life-threatening injuries when part of a Confederate soldier statue fell on him as they tried to topple it.
Richmond Mayor Levar Stoney, who attended the march, and other local leaders have acknowledged the statues symbolize hate and racism, but they urged activists to stop taking matters into their own hands for public safety.
Instead, they said, let the monuments be removed professionally. A new Virginia state law gives localities the ability to remove, relocate or contextualize war memorials starting July 1. Local governments were previously prohibited from taking such action.
Statues of Confederate leaders throughout the country are continuing to be vandalized and removed. To date, nearly 1,800 Confederate symbols still stand across the U.S., including more than 700 monuments in parks, schools and Washington, D.C. In the last few weeks, Confederate statues have also been removed in Kentucky, Alabama, Florida and Tennessee.
Public opinion about the fate of the monuments is also shifting, according to new polling that shows 44 percent of voters say statues of Confederate leaders should remain standing, down from 52 percent in 2017, and 32 percent say the statues should be removed, compared with 26 percent in 2017.