Protests across Loudoun continued on Saturday with Black Lives Matter demonstrations in Leesburg and Sterling drawing massive crowds.
Leesburg’s second major protest in a week drew hundreds of people, who marched through downtown from the Town Green to the courthouse square. The statue of the Confederate soldier on the courthouse green, surrounded by protesters once again, ended the demonstration wearing a face mask reading “Black Lives Matter” and holding a protest sign.
And at Algonkian Regional Park, thousands of protesters marched and chanted across fields, paths and golf courses to show their solidarity with the movement.
“Racism is a behavior that is taught, it’s taught. It’s not something people grow up doing, it’s learned,” said one young attendee. “We need to change it. We need to make that change today. Let’s help everybody, and use what we have. If you’re white, use your voice and help the people that need the help and get them through this, so we can get through it and focus on things that actually need to be focused on, not the color of your skin.”
The protests were prompted by the latest series of high-profile police killings of black people, including Breonna Taylor in Lousville, KY, and most recently George Floyd in Minneapolis, MN. Their names have become rallying cries at protests and demonstrations.
The demonstration at Algonkian Regional Park was organized and led by high school student Ocean Akinotcho.
“People tell us that it’s because the blacks are violent, it’s because the blacks live in ghettos, and that they keep becoming drug addicts, drug lords and just criminals,” Akinotcho told the protesters. “We’re meant to be criminals, they say, but we’re not meant to be criminals. Nobody is born violent, no one is born racist and no one is born to die.”
Like other organizers who have been surprised by the number and fervor of the people who have turned out to demonstrations, Akinotcho said she expected only a tiny fraction of the actual attendance—fewer than a hundred, she said, compared to the thousands who are estimated to have shown up. And, she said, “young activists should stand up now, because there’s no time better than today.”
“Other than protesting, I feel like the best way [to help] is to donate, to spread awareness, and to really stand up for your fellow black man within the community,” Akinotcho said. “Because you don’t know how many people I’ve seen who have told me that they were abused by classmates, teachers, even people they trust, and nobody stuck up for them. And having somebody stick up for you was a big deal for them. I feel like that’s the root of the Black Lives Matter movement—if you can stick up for your black fellow, then you’re definitely doing something.”
Supervisor Juli E. Briskman (D-Algonkian) has also been a regular presence at those protests, including at Algonkian Regional Park. She promised to take action in her new post on the county Board of Supervisors, including helping the push to take down the statue of a Confederate soldier and push for a Loudoun County police department to take over law enforcement from the Sheriff’s Office.
“Allyship is a long-term partnership with disadvantaged populations and people to help them make their lives better, and that’s what I’m going for,” Briskman said. “It’s not a sign that you hold, it’s some words that you say only. Allyship, especially for someone like me, means action.”
“There should not be a more, and there should not be a less, and that is why Black Lives Matter is here—not to matter more, but to matter,” Akinotcho said.