Smithfield protest planned on Saturday

Published 11:37 pm Tuesday, June 23, 2020

A Smithfield native is leading the charge to rally community members for social justice.

Karra Johnson is an organizer of a protest planned for downtown starting at 3 p.m. on Saturday.

“The focus of this protest is just to stand with our brothers and sisters nationwide and to show Black communities everywhere that in little towns like Smithfield and Isle of Wight County that we are standing with them,” said Johnson. The focus, she added, won’t be on a specific issue but rather on overall social injustices. 

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At the event this weekend, the group plans to march for a half-mile through downtown, followed by a rally in front of The Smithfield Times office with spoken word performances, music and speeches. 

As a “cool down” after the event, Johnson said they have invited food trucks and Black-owned businesses to facilitate positive community connections and meet others. 

Johnson was born and raised in Smithfield. She is a rising junior at Virginia Tech who is majoring in biology with a pre-med concentration.

The event was scheduled for the previous weekend but was postponed due to weather. This weekend, they plan to hold the protest rain or shine unless there are storms with thunder and lightning.

Demonstrations, protests and rallies for social justice broke out across Virginia, nationwide and worldwide following the May 25 killing of George Floyd, a Black man, at the hands of a white Minneapolis police officer. In Smithfield, Johnson said they are planning for a peaceful, positive event and they have the cooperation of town officials, including Police Chief Alonzo Howell.

“I feel like the cooperation from the police force will help us get our message out more clearly,” Johnson said. “Had I not cooperated with the police force, I feel as though the protest might have been shut down and our message wouldn’t have been heard and reached as many people as I’m hoping it will this Saturday.”

Town Manager Michael Stallings confirmed officials are aware of and plan to accommodate the event.

“The police chief and I have been working with the organizer so that we can ensure the safety of the participants as well as the citizens of Smithfield,” Stallings said in an email. “We have met several times to discuss the logistics of her march and she has been very cooperative in the planning of her event to provide for a safe and effective demonstration.”