• 68°

Protesters: ‘Change starts now’

At a City Hall protest Friday, speakers called for action, not just words, to effect the changes they want to see not only in those who represent them, but the issues they want to see addressed in the city.

More than 100 people turned out onto the City Hall steps urging people to vote, to show up at government meetings, get involved in their community and support black-owned businesses in the city.

“I am here, I am Suffolk, I am Virginia, I am not going nowhere, and I am not a target,” said Eric Knight, one of the organizers of the protest and an assistant football coach at Lakeland High School. “You’re the same color as I. You are not a target. You are a beautiful queen. You are a mighty king. You are the future, you are a leader, you are positive — nothing negative. It’s time for a change, and the change starts now.”

The protest’s purpose? Of course, it was spurred by the death of George Floyd on May 25 in Minneapolis at the hands of police officers. But it’s also local, the organizers said.

“We all know the why, we all know the purpose, we all know the reason,” Knight said. “It. shouldn’t have taken lives being lost for us to be out here for us to promote change. Change should have been promoted from the beginning, when the very first life was taken, not only at the hands of the police department, but our own hands have taken many lives in these streets, in our community, in cities in the 757.

“So not only are we looking for change within the police department, we are also looking for change within ourselves, as black men, as black women. We can disagree without being negative. We can disagree without having a beef. We can come together and talk, and handle situations in a different light. I cannot stand here and let it happen anymore.

Clerk of Court Randy Carter challenged protesters to register to vote, and then get involved in the electoral process, noting there are presidential, congressional, City Council and School Board elections this year.

“The best way I can think of … is to sit down and get involved in these elections,” Carter said. “Find someone that does or says, or is going to do what you think you want them to do, and you go to work for them and you get behind them.”

School Board member Tyron Riddick challenged people to come to the board’s next meeting Thursday at City Hall and support the division’s superintendent, attorney, director of human resources, custodians, bus drivers and cafeteria workers. He called on people to hold elected officials accountable and get a seat at the table. But he also said that about 1,200 high school students have not logged onto the division’s Edgenuity program.

“They come from Lakeland and King’s Fork (high schools),” Riddick said. “You look at the demographics of the schools, you already know the probability of who those students may be. We’ve got to step up, hold our elected officials accountable, hold each other accountable. If you see me slipping, call me out. If I’m not doing what you elected me to do, don’t put me back.”

Delegate Clinton Jenkins, speaking at the protest, called on people to vote with their pocketbooks and boycott Walmart for a week to two weeks and make it have a domino effect throughout the state. Then, he said, their voices would be heard.

“If you want to bring some real impact, I challenge you — and I’m about to lose some sponsorships and some donors — but I challenge you, boycott Walmart for a week, two weeks,” Jenkins said. “I challenge you. Can you do it?”

More than 20 people spoke, calling for change, calling for people to get active in their community and hold elected officials accountable. They vowed they would continue their efforts, get involved and then stay involved in improving issues of equity and establishing dialogues with city officials and Suffolk Police.

At one point, Knight noted that change should have happened the first time a police officer killed a black person.

“I’m tired. I’m frustrated. This is now, man,” Knight said, his voice breaking. “I’m tired. I’m frustrated. Stand with me.”