As hundreds continue to protest in Ferguson, Missouri, over the fatal shooting of Michael Brown by a police officer, some in Roanoke decided they wanted to make sure they let it be known they didn’t want something like that to happen in southwest Virginia.
“We need to make sure there is unity and peace,” said Charmaine Ware, 42, of Roanoke.
As a small crowd of about 15 people marched down the Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial Bridge in downtown on Tuesday, the words from the American pastor and activist’s “I Have A Dream” speech quietly played from the speakers at the statue.
“We must forever conduct our struggle on the high plane of dignity and discipline,” King said. “We must not allow our creative protest to degenerate into physical violence. Again and again we must rise to the majestic heights of meeting physical force with soul force.”
With King’s words in mind, the march remained quiet and peaceful, from starting at the northern end of the bridge, passing by the Roanoke Police Department on Campbell Avenue, weaving through a neighborhood in southwest, before ending up back at the bridge.
A few cars honked their horns, and in front of the jail, a man pumped his fist in support and a woman told them, “You’re doing the right thing.”
Signs read “Hands up, don’t shoot,” a phrase that has come to define the Ferguson protests after witnesses told police that Brown, an unarmed black teen, had his hands up before he was shot by Darren Wilson, a white police officer.
Other signs said “Is it time we value all life yet?” and “When did police officers become the judge and the jury?”
Unlike the Ferguson protests, there wasn’t a single police officer present at the Roanoke march.
Similar demonstrations have taken place in other cities, with people standing in solidarity with the protestors in Ferguson.
Sharrieff Perdue-Jones, 41, of Roanoke, started planning a march in Roanoke a few days ago. She said she’s sensed the tension people in the community, often black, have with police, fearing them more then viewing them as protectors.
“I’m aware of the tension and the police disconnect with the community,” she said. “And when the community hurts, I hurt.”
Jason Lambert, 30, of Salem, showed up Tuesday evening because he often likes to make his voice heard over national issues that flare up.
“There’s a breaking point,” he said. “We won’t stand for this. And this is one way for people to wake up.”
Like Lambert, LeVita Washington, 41, is also a frequent face at public rallies.
“Something needs to be done,” she said. “Everyone is on edge. Everyone is worried about their kids. God forbid what happened in Ferguson happens in Virginia or Roanoke.”
A few voiced frustration that more people didn’t show up to the march.
“You’ve got to start somewhere,” said Khalid Jones, 40, Perdue-Jones’ husband.
The group plans to organize weekly meetings and a social media following so it can continue with marches and other events to raise awareness about the tensions between police departments and residents.
Terron Reed, 34, of Roanoke said he showed up in person because he’s not a Facebook activist.
“We hope that this effort put forth will spread out in the community,” he said in a group prayer.
“I hope this is the start of a positive thing that will move forward.”