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WATCH NOW: Thousands more march for justice in Richmond, Henrico as children rally together

Over the past 11 days, Requel McKeever showed her son videos of the protests that have sprung up across the country in response to the killing of Minnesota man George Floyd.

They watched as thousands marched for justice, including many in Richmond. They talked about black culture and growing up as a black child. On Sunday, they marched for themselves.

“He needs to see that his life matters and be part of this unification,” McKeever said.

Walking from Chimborazo Park in Richmond to 25th Street and back, she held a sign that simply said, “My Sons’ Lives Matter — Signed A Black Mom,” while her son Rikye, 10, held one that read, “My Life Matters — Signed A Black Boy.”

“This is a time for him to see that he has a voice,” Raquel said of her fourth-grader.

Hundreds of other people agreed. The children of Richmond traded the playground for the streets of Church Hill on Sunday, demanding justice for the killing of Floyd and other victims of police brutality, while asking for recognition in a city where nearly two in three students are black.

Families marched with wagons and strollers. Children rode bikes along the route, which police aided in helping to block off. Staff at the nearby Bellevue Elementary passed out water bottles to protesters.

It was exactly what Tanesha Powell, a former teacher who now works at a city nonprofit that gives students outdoor experiences, envisioned.

Her daughter, a 10-year-old who attends school in Henrico County, had wanted to be a part of the growing number of demonstrations, but Powell didn’t feel it was safe for her to attend the protests, most of which have been peaceful.

There was extensive vandalism in the second night of protests.

Powell decided to organize Sunday’s event, formally called the “Mindfulness March for Kids,” to give parents in the same situation a chance to take part in the activism with their children.

“This showed that Richmond is united against injustice and willing to educate their kids on the ways to properly treat one another,” Powell said.

She started the rally in Chimborazo Park by putting on her teacher hat and reading “Not My Idea: A Book about Whiteness” to the parents and students. The children’s book talks about racism while inviting white people to pursue justice.

The group of roughly 1,000 people marched from the park down Broad Street to 25th Street, where they stopped for nine minutes — roughly the same amount of time as a Minneapolis police officer knelt on Floyd’s neck while detaining him.

There, they used “all of our breath to shout for justice,” as Powell described.

Chants of “Black Lives Matter” and “I Can’t Breathe” rang out on the corner and again on the walk back to the park. Children held signs that read “Kids for Justice” and shouted — sometimes with a bit of a youthful squeak — that “I am the change.”

Among those walking were Michael and Jenna Ross, the latter of whom teaches fourth grade in the city. They brought their biracial daughter and son, wanting them to see from a young age that racism is not OK and that they should stand up for what they believe.

“I want to show them that change can happen,” Michael Ross said.

***

Thousands of people marched from St. Paul’s Baptist Church and down Creighton Road to the Eastern Henrico County Recreation Center on North Laburnum Avenue. They chanted George Floyd’s name as they walked along the nearly 2-mile route.

“Systematic racism and injustice has been [here] since the founding of our country. It’s never been addressed. It’s never been dealt with,” said Brandi Rainer, a 42-year-old Chesterfield County resident, as she marched on the road. “I just think we now are at a place, especially with the [cellphone] cameras, where it can’t be denied.”

Craig Watson joined Sunday’s march because he is “tired and frustrated,” adding that the country has to do better.

“Equity is not existent. I’m walking for equity. I’m walking for my black and brown people that just don’t get seen, and their voices don’t get heard,” said Watson, 45, of Henrico. “They’re going to hear us.”

Drones hovered as a long line of marchers headed down Creighton Road, which police closed to traffic. People standing by the side of the road offered water and encouragement.

“No matter what color we are, we all still got the same blood. We all should just get along,” said Ramon Canady, 41, of Henrico, as the marchers passed by the Kensington Meadows subdivision. “We are all family. This racism has got to stop.”

Nearby, John Lock was sitting by the side of the road with a sign that said, “It could have been my son.”

Lock, an African American man who has three sons and three daughters, said he lives with the fear that someday they could experience violence at the hands of police.

“And that’s sad to even have that on your conscience and on your mind when it shouldn’t even be like that,” said Lock, 69, of Henrico.

At the recreation center, speakers urged members of the march to fill out their U.S. Census forms, and they called for children in the eastern part of the county to get the same quality education as those attending schools in the affluent western part of the county.

“We wanted to give citizens a platform to directly speak to us about what their concerns are and what legislation they want to see put forth,” said Tyrone Nelson, a Henrico supervisor who helped organize the protest, during an interview.

Nelson said that while the protest brought out attendees, the key thing to keep in mind is that people need to stay engaged with the policymaking process.

Organizers said thousands attended the march. Roscoe Cooper III, the Henrico School Board chairman who helped organize the event, said he agreed with one estimate that put the size of the crowd at roughly 5,000.

“We have to fight systematic racism, we’ve got to deal with police brutality and social injustice, and we need our voices heard. But we also need our presence felt,” Cooper said in an interview. “I think this is just the beginning, not the end. This starts the conversation.”

While that crowd marched in Henrico, about 100 faith leaders from across the Richmond area gathered at the African Burial Ground at 15th and Broad streets.

What was essentially a midafternoon church service filled with singing, dancing and prayer brought people from many denominations together. They urged one another to confront racism in the city, saying enough is enough.

“This is the shift. This is the revolution. This is what we have been waiting for,” said Corey Goss, the student pastor at Hill City Church. “We cannot be silent.”


Coronavirus
Awaiting guidance from state, Virginia schools make plans to reopen

Virginia students are set to learn this week when and how they might be able to return to school in the fall.

Gov. Ralph Northam is expected on Tuesday to address school reopening, something he had initially planned to do last week. The announcement will give more guidance to school districts and colleges across the state that have been moving forward with their own plans to return.

Northam became just the second governor to close schools for the rest of the academic year when he did so on March 23, with shuttered schools transitioning to virtual education. He said last month that he’s hopeful schools will be able to reopen in the fall as COVID-19 continues its spread while, according to researchers from the University of Virginia, not yet reaching its peak for new daily cases.

Specific guidelines will be released after Northam releases his plans for reopening schools, said Virginia Department of Education spokesman Charles Pyle. School leaders across the state are expecting an approach similar to how Northam reopened businesses, with separate phases each loosening some restrictions and the state setting the “floor” for constraints.

Some schools across the country and the world have already reopened, providing a glimpse into what the fall could look like if students return in Virginia. Teachers walking around with pool noodles to enforce social distancing. Temperature screenings for students and staff. Rotating days in the classroom.

“Schools are going to look very different,” said John Bailey, a researcher at the American Enterprise Institute, which last month published a comprehensive blueprint for school reopening. “We still have this looming threat of a second or third wave of the virus that could cause schools to close even longer.”

School systems across Virginia await the state’s guidance, which they say will help craft what schools look like when they reopen.

“Our plan will be largely dependent upon the official guidance we receive from the governor, the Virginia Department of Education and the Virginia Department of Health, which we anticipate we will be receiving soon,” said Hanover County Public Schools spokesman Chris Whitley. “This will help to inform our decisions and further develop our plans, which will take significant time, effort and careful thought.”

The county school system created a panel that is looking at three opening scenarios (on-time, delayed and staggered) along with three instructional scenarios (in-person, virtual and a mix of the two) and other factors, such as how to socially distance in classrooms and buses, among other things.

“While we are eager for our students and staff to return, we must do it safely and responsibly,” Whitley said.

Richmond Public Schools plans to survey families this week about reopening, Superintendent Jason Kamras said.

Neither of the district’s two options — all virtual or a hybrid of virtual learning and in-person instruction — bring every student back at the same time. Kamras said school leaders are emphasizing the fact that Richmond, which remains in the first reopening phase along with Northern Virginia as the rest of the state entered Phase Two, has been hit harder than most other localities.

“I personally have significant concerns about socially distanced education. In many ways, that is the antithesis of what a well-rounded education is,” Kamras said. “As a city, we have taken a more cautious approach, which I completely support. I think folks should expect the same for our schools.”

Henrico County Public Schools has five options on the table, with the format ultimately depending on the pandemic. In a news release, the school system said new safety measures would be adopted for the on-campus plans and that students’ learning pace would be adjusted to fill in the gaps of what they missed in the spring.

The five options include students returning to campuses; students continuing remote learning; students coming back to campuses for weeks or months at a time with stints of remote learning; some students coming to school with others learning remotely on alternate days; and the same hybrid idea, just without alternating days.

Those situations are similar to what Chesterfield County schools chief Merv Daugherty told families late last month that the county school system is considering.

Daugherty said the district is looking at giving every student a system-issued laptop or tablet next year while also giving free wireless internet or hot spots to families who don’t already have access.

“We will continue to tackle challenges and take advantage of opportunities as they come our way, and we will keep you updated as soon as decisions are made,” he said. “We continue to appreciate your patience as we navigate this uncharted path. Together, we will come through this stronger as individuals and as a community.”

***

School districts in the Richmond area aren’t the only ones trying to figure out reopening plans.

In Radford, where only six people have been infected by the virus according to state data, Superintendent Robert Graham hopes to have the school year start in early August, with 12 to 15 students on each school bus and in each classroom. Still, it would not be a complete reopening.

None of the three plans on the table for Radford City Public Schools brings every student back at once.

“It’s just been a gamut of scenarios,” said Graham, adding that the district could add several days to its calendar to make up for lost learning. “I would like students to return on the day we’d set, but I know that can’t happen.”

In harder-hit Fairfax County in Northern Virginia, which has more COVID-19 cases and deaths than any locality in the state, the county school system will present specific details on its three scenarios — where students will start the school year remotely; where students return to school with social distancing in place; and where schools open on time, but students and staff who are unable to return will attend through virtual learning — to its School Board on June 15.

“Obviously, there are many unanswered questions right now,” said Lucy Caldwell, a spokeswoman for the district, the largest in the state.

***

Across the country and world, school leaders have been creative in their reopening. At a school in Montana, for example, teachers are using pool noodles to enforce 6-foot social distancing. In Denmark, desks are set 6 feet apart and recesses are staggered to avoid crowds.

One item not on the checklist for reopening in Virginia is Standards of Learning testing, which proponents said would give the state and school systems the chance to identify gaps in learning that are likely to grow even larger during the closures with not all students having access to the internet.

The tests, normally given in the spring, were canceled because of the statewide school closures and, after initially considering the idea, the state Department of Education told school leaders in April that it would not have the tests upon students’ return.

What will happen — and how schools could look — remains to be seen.


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Local
breaking
WATCH NOW: Confederate statue removed from Monroe Park after protesters tore it down Saturday night

People who passed through Monroe Park on Sunday morning stopped to stare and take pictures of the graffiti-scrawled pedestal that once held the statue of Confederate Gen. Williams Carter Wickham.

Marvin Jones, who lives near the park, stopped by after seeing the news about the statue coming down on Saturday night.

“I’m glad they tore it down,” Jones said. “They need to bring them all down.”

The statue, which demonstrators toppled on Saturday night, was nowhere to be seen. City officials could not immediately be reached for comment about where the statue was taken after it was pulled down.

Alice Massie, president of the board of the Monroe Park Conservancy that manages the park located in the heart of the Virginia Commonwealth University campus, said she thinks the statue was taken away by the National Guard.

Massie declined to say where the statue was taken.

“The physical statue is secure,” she said.

Bryce Collier, who was biking in the park, said he thought the statue would still be on the ground when he passed through on Sunday morning, and he was stunned by how quickly it was taken away.

“That is a testament and a symbol to show how fast these statues can be removed,” Collier said. “These statues are hate that everyone knows about.”

Paul Rucker, an associate professor at VCU, said the statue’s toppling is “just a start.” Dealing with white supremacy will entail a lot more than statues coming down, said Rucker, who walked by the statue’s pedestal on Sunday morning.

“It’s about addressing disparities in health care, education, housing, jobs,” said Rucker, an iCubed research fellow at VCU. “It’s really about jobs. When you’re in a city that’s 50% black, and you go to a boardroom or an office and you only see one black person working in that office and the other black people in the whole building are janitors, we have a problem.”

As he walked his dog through Monroe Park, John-Lawrence Smith called it “a disgrace” that the statue had been pulled down by demonstrators. Smith said he hoped Wickham’s statue would be put back up, and he added that the city’s statues honor “great men” who sacrificed for their country.

“I think it’s disrespectful. I think it’s highly offensive,” Smith said of the statue’s removal by demonstrators. “It’s not just about this. They’re trying to undermine the country and the Constitution.”

After a day and evening of peaceful protests and marches in Richmond and its suburbs on Saturday, protesters using ropes pulled down Wickham’s statue, which had stood in the park since 1891.

Most of the protesters who had marched through the city Saturday night had already dispersed when the statue was taken down. After it fell, one person urinated on it and then ran away.

About an hour after the incident in Monroe Park, nearly 40 cars were seen surrounding the Lee statue, blocking traffic along Monument Avenue.

In 2017, two brothers descended from Wickham had called on Mayor Levar Stoney and the City Council to remove the statue.

Wickham’s was one of two statues honoring Confederate officers in Monroe Park. The other is a stone cross dedicated to Gen. Fitzhugh Lee for his service in the U.S. Army during the Spanish-American War.


National
AP
Minneapolis council majority backs disbanding police force (copy)

MINNEAPOLIS — A majority of the members of the Minneapolis City Council said Sunday that they support disbanding the city’s police department, an aggressive stance that comes just as the state has launched a civil rights investigation after George Floyd’s death.

Nine of the council’s 12 members appeared with activists at a rally in a city park Sunday afternoon and vowed to end policing as the city currently knows it. Council member Jeremiah Ellison promised that the council would “dismantle” the department.

“It is clear that our system of policing is not keeping our communities safe,” said Lisa Bender, the council president. “Our efforts at incremental reform have failed, period.”

Bender went on to say she and the eight other council members who joined the rally are committed to ending the city’s relationship with the police force and “to end policing as we know it and re-create systems that actually keep us safe.”

Floyd, a handcuffed black man, died May 25 after a white officer pressed his knee into Floyd’s neck, ignoring his “I can’t breathe” cries and holding it there even after Floyd stopped moving. His death sparked protests — some violent, many peaceful — that spread nationwide.

Community activists have criticized the Minneapolis department for years for what they say is a racist and brutal culture that resists change. The state of Minnesota launched a civil rights investigation of the department last week, and the first concrete changes came Friday in a stipulated agreement in which the city agreed to ban chokeholds and neck restraints.

A more complete remaking of the department is likely to unfold in coming months.

Disbanding an entire department has happened before. In 2012, with crime rampant in Camden, N.J., the city disbanded its police department and replaced it with a new force that covered Camden County. Compton, Calif., took the same step in 2000, shifting its policing to Los Angeles County.

It was a step that then-Attorney General Eric Holder said the Justice Department was considering for Ferguson, Mo., after the death of Michael Brown. The city eventually reached an agreement short of that but one that required massive reforms overseen by a court-appointed mediator.

The move to defund or abolish the Minneapolis department is far from assured, with the civil rights investigation likely to unfold over the next several months.

On Saturday, activists for defunding the department staged a protest outside Mayor Jacob Frey’s home. Frey came out to talk with them.

“I have been coming to grips with my own responsibility, my own failure in this,” said Frey, adding: “I do not support the full abolition of the police department.”

He left to booing.

At another march Saturday during which leaders called for defunding the department, Verbena Dempster said she supported the idea.

“I think, honestly, we’re too far past” the chance for reform, Dempster said. “We just have to take down the whole system.”

Other proposals have called for reducing police budgets in some cities. In New York City, Mayor Bill de Blasio said Sunday that the city would move some funding from the NYPD to youth initiatives and social services.

In Los Angeles, Mayor Eric Garcetti vowed to cut up to $150 million that was part of a planned increase in the police budget.