MARION, Va. (WJHL) — The ‘Black Lives Matter’ movement group, the New Panthers, hosted its first march Saturday afternoon.
A handful of New Generation Freedom Fighters members and group leaders traveled over an hour from Johnson City to show their commitment to the movement.
News Channel 11’s Kristen Gallant spoke to Travon Brown, the organizer of the march, who said seeing people gather to march from various parts of the region helps to show solidarity.
“It shows that they really want change, and they really want to get justice for the injustices of our black peers everywhere,” Brown said. “It means a lot to me that they showed up, that they came out, and they supported us — all the ages, all the people. It just makes my heart feel really good.”
Brown stressed that the marchers’ main goal other than bringing awareness to systemic racism and police brutality is to keep the events peaceful.
“We don’t want any kind of altercations,” Brown said. “We don’t want any kind of drama; this is a peaceful protest.”
During the march, the protesters passed counter-protesters, and despite a few exchanged words, several marchers eventually shook hands with the counter-protesters and even stopped to come together and discuss the differences between the ‘Black Lives Matter’ movement and the ‘All Lives Matter’ counter-protest.
According to Brown, the marchers hope to get people talking about the issues at-hand.
“This community really needs to change,” Brown said. “There are a lot of racial issues here that nobody wants to talk about. Everybody sweeps it under the rug. I want change for this community.”
Before the march, Brown spoke with Marion Police Chief John Clair to ensure the march remained peaceful.
“I actually spoke to the chief and the sheriff,” Brown said. “We just talked about how everything was to remain safe. They said if anybody comes [disrupts], they were going to help us and remove those people.”
Clair told News Channel 11 that Saturday’s protest stayed peaceful and that it helped bring the community together.
“We want to see free expression; we want to see the redress of grievances, and it’s what allows us to be partners in those efforts,” Clair said. “It’s extremely important for a community, and it’s healthy for democracy.”
The police department’s presence at the protests was to ensure community members stayed safe while practicing their first amendment rights.
“One thing that we stress is that we’re here to protect all residents of our jurisdiction, not just some, and so we need to listen, and we need to understand what those communities need from us to feel safe,” Clair said.