WINCHESTER — About 500 people crowded onto the Loudoun Street Mall this morning to demonstrate against the death of George Floyd and police brutality.
"It's a very peaceful protest," Winchester Police Chief John Piper said of the gathering, the first of two scheduled for the day.
The morning event was designated a silent protest, meaning there were no chants as participants marched through downtown.
The procession stopped briefly in front of Rouss City Hall, where Mayor David Smith offered words of encouragement.
"Let's stay peaceful," Smith said. "God bless everyone."
When the protesters converged in front of the Shenandoah Valley Civil War Museum on the Loudoun Street Mall, the Rev. Kevin Wilson of Saint Paul African Methodist Episcopal Church of Winchester led them in singing "We Shall Overcome," a gospel song from 1900 that became an anthem during the civil rights movement of the 1960s.
The crowd then kneeled for 8 minutes and 46 seconds — the same amount of time that Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin kneeled on Floyd's neck, resulting in his death. Chauvin has since been fired and faces a charge of second-degree murder. Three other officers who were present and failed to intervene face charges of aiding and abetting murder.
"Imagine your brother with a knee on his neck for eight minutes," Wilson said. "That's a reason for rage."
One by one, people of every color stepped forth to address the crowd.
"We've been fighting this battle for 400 years," said Wilhelmina Booker, of Winchester. "It takes all of us."
"My daughter's grandpa is a person of color," said Shenoa Parker, of Winchester. "I had to explain to her why grandpa's crying."
A second protest is scheduled for 4 p.m. today in downtown Winchester.
For more coverage, see Saturday's edition of The Winchester Star.