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Area responds to death of George Floyd

In the wake of the unrest in cities across the country following the death of George Floyd, residents of Farmville and the surrounding area gathered at Robert Russa Moton Museum to partake in a moment of silence and discussion. Others gathered on the courthouse lawn.

Monday afternoon, June 1, law enforcement officials from across the area gathered on the courthouse lawn to read a letter to the public saying they were shocked at the unnecessary death of George Floyd in Minneapolis.

Floyd, 46, died Monday, May 25, after former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin knelt on Floyd’s neck for more than eight minutes during an arrest regarding the possible use of a counterfeit $20 bill at a convenience store.

Chauvin has since been arrested and charged with third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter. The viral video documenting Floyd’s death has resulted in protests, in some cases violent and destructive, across the country.

Law officers from across the Town of Farmville, Prince Edward, Buckingham and Cumberland as well as officers from Longwood University and Hampden-Sydney College gathered at the courthouse Monday, June 1, at 4 p.m. for a press conference and to issue a public letter denouncing Floyd’s death. Farmville Police Chief Andy Ellington read the letter to the public, stating that the local law enforcement agencies were shocked by Floyd’s death and understood and acknowledged that his unnecessary death had “further fueled the smoldering fires of mistrust between law enforcement and the communities” they serve.

Ellington said the agencies wanted to assure citizens that local officers are trained to carry out their duties with respect and integrity for all individuals, and that Floyd’s death was a reminder of the consequences when that integrity is eroded.

He added that local officers and deputies are all trained throughout each year with the “core principles of the understanding of cultural diversity and non-biased policing,” which spell out the constitutional safeguard for citizens when officers stop, detain, search, attempt to search or use any force against any person on the basis of their race, sex, national origin, ethnicity, age, religon or a combination thereof.

The letter finished by stating the local law enforcement agencies’ condolences to Floyd’s family.

Prince Edward County Commonwealth’s Attorney Megan Clark also spoke at the conference, describing Floyd’s death as a murder that further highlighted the systemic racism that still exists in the country.

“No longer can you tell me that we just need to get over it,” Clark said. “No longer can you tell me I am imagining things. I am not imagining anything. This has to stop. We need to be educated. We need to stop living with our heads in the sand and acting like this is not happening.

“I will continue to seek justice for all,” she continued, “no matter the person’s race, ethnicity, socio-economic status. It is my hope and prayer that justice will be done in the case of George Floyd.”

At 6 p.m. Saturday, May 30, area residents and local business owners came together to address the topic of Floyd’s death.

Attendees, including representatives of the Farmville Jaycees and the local NAACP, took turns introducing themselves and discussing issues such as racism, police brutality and how to answer difficult questions asked by children.

Those who gathered at the museum also took part in a moment of silence for Floyd and other victims of injustice. Tonya Blanton led the group in prayer.

Brian Toney, of Rice, one of the organizers of the gathering, said he felt inspired to gather community members at the historic Moton Museum in order to take a stand.

Toney, who works at the Piedmont Regional Jail in Farmville, said he wanted to make sure the gathering was in no way a protest, but rather a chance for business owners, families and organization leaders to come out and express their thoughts and stand together in unity.

“It’s not about white or black. It’s all about equality, community, people coming together,” he said. “I don’t agree with the way that people are rioting, and I wanted to set the tone and let everyone know that this is how you do it. If you believe in something, you don’t have to trash the community. You don’t have to trash a business. You stand up.”

Earlier Saturday morning, a group of young people were gathered at the Prince Edward County Courthouse. The gatherers sported signs showing their outrage regarding Floyd’s death and their support for the area’s black community.

“I decided to stand out here today to just show my support and stand in solidarity with the people of color in our community,” Megan Garrett, a Farmville native and Longwood graduate, said. “With everything that’s going on, I just wanted to show them that there are people standing with them through this.”

At the end of the event at the Moton Museum Saturday evening, participants took turns exchanging information and resources. The group discussed the future creation of an online platform to engage in further talks and pursue social justice.

A peaceful protest for racial and economic justice was held the following day, Sunday, May 31, at 2 p.m. at the Prince Edward Courthouse. Dozens of protesters from across the area donned their face masks and displayed signs as cars passed on Main Street.