Impassioned speeches were punctuated by prayers and gospel music in Warrenton, as about 800 people attended the Hate Has No Home Here Rally in Eva Walker Park Saturday afternoon. Ten Fauquier County pastors called on participants to fight against racial injustice; the overriding message was to do so peacefully.
Pastor Bob Gordon of Bealeton Baptist Church offered a prayer to “stop the violence;” Pastor Keith McCollough of Mt. Zion Baptist Church entreated those attending to “heal our nation;” Rev. Gayle Porias of Mt. Horeb United Methodist Church led a prayer for pastors and churches, and Pastor Mike Poff of Cornerstone Baptist Church prayed for families who have lost loved ones to racial injustice and COVID-19.
T. Tyronne Champion, who was asked by Warrenton Town Councilman Sean Polster to help plan the event, acknowledged the presence of law enforcement officers. “I’ve been told that if the officers are not bowing their heads in prayer, it’s because they are keeping their eyes open to protect us.”
A helicopter hovered above the gathering, but Fauquier County Sheriff Robert Mosier assured attendees that it was not connected with law enforcement, and was probably a helicopter from a news outlet.
Ellsworth Weaver, president of the Fauquier chapter of the NAACP, laid out a roadmap for those who would like to see systemic change. “For 400 years, we have had knees on our necks,” referring to the death of George Floyd, who died in police custody when a Minneapolis, Minnesota police officer handcuffed him, then kneeled on his neck until he died. That officer and three others have been charged in Floyd’s murder.
Weaver referred to Floyd’s death as a “lynching.”
But Weaver said that the black lives matter movement is not just about police brutality; it’s also about education, health care, economics and housing. He said that education provides a big opportunity for equality. Health care, he said “has been denied to some of us even before we were born … and people of color have been disproportionally sickened by the [COVID-19] virus.”
He encouraged the crowd to have a plan, to take all the energy and outrage generated by George Floyd’s death and use it to pursue equality.
He concluded, “There are two emotions we all have, love and anger… Anger can slip in so easily, but love levels off the playing field.”
In the audience, Lottice Keller of Bealeton said she supports peaceful protest. “It’s important to do it the right way,” she said.
Tommy Webster of Bealeton added, “No looting or wild stuff. That takes away from what the protest is for.”
Jacqueline Timbers, who works at The Fauquier Bank in Warrenton, said she “loves Warrenton and wanted to show her support for a good, safe future.”
“I’m tired of systemic racism,” said Kaliegh Jewell. She believes everybody should be treated equally. She said that she and her husband Dillon are planning to start a family soon. “We couldn’t do that if we weren’t willing to support this cause.”
The rally was closing in on an hour when Mosier and Warrenton Police Chief Mike Kochis stepped up to the front of the crowd to take questions. The first person with a question asked the two law enforcement leaders if they knew about “eight that can’t wait.” He explained that they are eight proposals to address police violence:
- Ban chokeholds and strangleholds
- Require de-escalation
- Require warning before shooting
- Exhaust all other means before shooting
- Duty to intervene
- Ban shooting at moving vehicles
- Require use of force continuum
- Require comprehensive reporting
Mosier said that officers are not trained to use chokeholds and said that they would only be used if an officer was fighting for his life.
Kochis added that his officers are trained not to shoot at vehicles. “If you shoot at the windshield of a moving car, you have no idea who that bullet might hit.” Kochis also said that there is a use of force continuum in his department’s policies.
The chief took the opportunity to explain that a new citizen’s advisory board has been formed to work with the police department to develop and refine those policies. On Thursday, the group met for the first time and discussed the use of body cameras and the department’s use of force policy. He said input from the group will be incorporated into official police policy.
Arleena Allen, who with her friend Justine Morton organized a black lives matter demonstration last Sunday in Courthouse Square up the street, spoke at the rally, and she had a question for the sheriff and the chief, too. She wanted to know what the Warrenton police chief was doing to recruit more officers of color onto the force.
Kochis said that the force currently has two vacancies. He has received about 30 applications, but none of the applicants are minorities. “It’s a difficult challenge,” he said, and it means that he has to ask himself why people of color are not applying.
Davon Robinson, father of two small boys, was the last to step up to speak to the sheriff and the chief. Instead of just asking a question, he explained to the two lawmen what it was like for him, as a black man, to get pulled over by the police.
He said, “We have been taught that we are guilty until proven innocent,” and said that he has seen a lack of respect from officers when he has been pulled over. He said that young black men he has worked with feel the need to run when they see uniforms.
Robinson said he wanted to continue the conversation and expressed hope for the future. Kochis shared his card and encouraged Robinson to call so they could continue the dialogue. He said, “Otherwise all this will turn out to be just talk.”
Reach Robin Earl at email@example.com