Surry protesters demand justice

Published 5:09 pm Wednesday, June 10, 2020

By Stephen Faleski

Staff Writer


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The death of George Floyd while in police custody in Minneapolis on May 25 has sparked nationwide protests over the past several weeks, including one in Surry on Friday.

That evening, a crowd of more than 200 protesters marched from the Surry County government complex on School Street to the county’s historic courthouse on Church Street to demand justice and equality for African Americans, particularly when it comes to their interactions with law enforcement. 

Many could be heard chanting “No justice, no peace,” “Black lives matter,” and “I can’t breathe,” the latter reported to be among the last words Floyd uttered as Minneapolis Police Department officer Derek Chauvin and three others pinned Floyd to the ground.

Chauvin, who was shown on video pressing his knee against Floyd’s neck for more than eight minutes, has since been fired and charged criminally, as have the other three former officers involved in the incident. Chauvin reportedly faces second-degree murder charges, with the other three facing charges of aiding and abetting second-degree murder.

Protestors and law enforcement officers alike remained peaceful throughout the Surry march, with Sheriff Carlos Turner and several of his deputies marching in solidarity with the group. Maggie Pike, a rising senior at Surry County High School, organized the event with two friends — Cole Presson and Gabby Howard — who each graduated from SCHS in 2018.

Pike, who hopes to pursue a career in law enforcement herself, said the trio planned the event by meeting at her house and spreading the word primarily through word of mouth and social media. 

One white ally of the movement, Betsy Shepard, carried a sign that read, “When my family looted and rioted they were called patriots.” Her heritage, she explained, includes multiple ancestors who fought in the Revolutionary War.

“My family helped settle this country,” she said.

Chris Stevens, who is a deputy with the Surry County Sheriff’s Office, was carrying a sign that asked, “Are we ‘great’ yet?” in reference to President Donald Trump’s 2016 campaign slogan, “Make America Great Again.”

When the group converged outside the courthouse, Howard made the following statement, megaphone in hand.

“Pandemics are real, whether or not you know someone who is sick … police brutality is real, even if the cop you know is kind and just,” she said. In keeping with her statement, most protesters could be seen wearing face masks in an effort to prevent the spread of the COVID-19 virus.

The event organizers then invited other protest-goers to speak, one of whom was Rosa Turner, an Isle of Wight County resident who owns a business in Claremont. Turner referenced the Confederate monument on display outside the Surry County Courthouse, stating, “When you all take it down, I’m going to be right here applauding.”

While at the courthouse, the group also took a few minutes to honor Breonna Taylor, an African American EMT from Louisville, Kentucky, who would have turned 27 that day had she not been fatally shot by police in March. According to The New York Times, police shot Taylor at least eight times while serving a “no-knock” warrant at her residence, where officers are allowed to enter without warning and without identifying themselves as law enforcement officers.

Kaitlyn Mundie, a 2016 SCHS graduate, urged her fellow protesters to call out racist remarks.

“Please call people out,” she said. “It is 2020. Check your coworkers. Check your family. Check your friends.”

Sheriff Turner, who is African American, said about 14 of his deputies, along with Virginia State Police and Surry County Emergency Services personnel participated in the protest, both to ensure everyone’s safety and to march in solidarity with the group.

“The Surry County Sheriff’s Office is very appreciative of the friendly nature and peaceful assembly we witnessed yesterday,” Turner said. “The youth who organized the Surry County’s peaceful protest yesterday made my heart happy. At the end of the day I can take off my sheriff’s uniform, but I can’t take off my race … It was a powerful movement and these young people who organized this peaceful protest are amazing activists for the fight for injustice. I admire your efforts and what each of you have done and will continue to do for this movement. To our hard-working and ethical law enforcement officers, please remember you are appreciated and there are people out there who care about you and are grateful for you protecting them day in and day out. I stand with you all during these most difficult times our country is facing.”