Adrienne Belafonte Biesemeyer said she wants one thing to be clear about the Black Lives Matter movement: It doesn’t mean just black lives matter.
“The phrase Black Lives Matter means we matter also,” she told a crowd of 400 people on the West Virginia Capitol grounds on Sunday. “Not we matter exclusively, but also.”
Belafonte Biesemeyer, daughter of singer-songwriter and civil rights activist Harry Belafonte, was one of a handful of speakers at a Black Lives Matter rally in Charleston on Sunday.
Students from West Virginia State University, along with community and faith leaders, spoke at the event. Belafonte Biesemeyer, who lives in West Virginia, said the movement boils down to fighting for racial equality.
For her, the Black Lives Matter movement is about coming together as a community and tearing down barriers that have been in place long before her time.
“All lives do matter. I truly believe that. But how many white parents have to give their children instructions on, ‘When driving in a car and you’re stopped by the police, this is what you have to do?’” she said.
“If you don’t know what the instructions are, they’re this: If you’re stopped by a policeman, the first thing you do is turn on the dome light — even in the daytime. You make sure that your cellphone is beside you and that both hands are on the steering wheel. If the officer asks you for your license and your insurance card, you say to him, ‘I understand you want me to give you my license and insurance card,’ you repeat it back in a very calm and adult manner. Not with attitude. And then you inform the officer ‘my license is in my wallet and my insurance is in my glove box. Do I have permission to access what you have requested?’ If you have the chance to have your phone running, then you probably should. And that’s a shame. But for young persons of color ... these are the instructions we have to give. And it’s a sin and it’s a shame.”
Hundreds of people gathered in the heat on the Capitol grounds for the rally, many carrying handmade signs or wearing shirts denouncing racism and crying out for racial equality.
The peaceful rally was originally planned to be held at West Virginia State University later this week, but organizers moved it to the Capitol grounds after the incidents in Charlottesville, Virginia earlier this month.
The Charlottesville turmoil swelled during a ‘Unite the Right” rally on Aug. 12, organized by white supremacists to oppose the city’s plan to remove a memorial to Confederate general Robert E. Lee.
A man drove his car into a crowd of people protesting the white supremacists, killing one person and injuring 19 others, police said. The man was later charged with second-degree murder.
“White supremacy is a threat to us all,” said Takeiya Smith, a student at WVSU and one of the organizers of Sunday’s rally at the Capitol. “White supremacy does not care, it is evil and it is after power.”
The group also took a moment to recognize the lives young black people who have been killed in the community. Rather than a moment of silence, Smith lead the crowd to say “I love you” in unison to honor their lives.
There was a heavy police presence at the rally, but a spokesman with the Department of Military Affairs and Public Safety said there were no arrests on Capitol grounds Sunday.
Before the rally, a small group gathered at the statue of Confederate general Stonewall Jackson on the other side of the Capitol grounds. Last weekend, a group of more than 100 people who attended a vigil for Charlottesville at the statue called for its removal.
Members of the group around the statue Sunday said they were unarmed, they did not plan to cause any violence and that they care about equality. Rather, they said they view the statue as an important part of history.
After hearing some had called for the statue’s removal, Rachel See of Hardy County said she wanted to come to Charleston to speak in support of preserving the statue.
“I wanted to put a face to not wanting to see this happen,” she said. “It’s a real problem. It’s a misunderstanding of actual factual history. I’m not a racist person.”
Other unarmed groups, dressed in militia-like attire, were also present.
Leaders from the group Three Percent Republic, a group based in Clarksburg, said the group came to “celebrate the First Amendment” and to “keep the area safe to make sure nobody gets hurt.”
Members of the West Virginia Council of Churches gathered around the bell on the Capitol grounds before the rally to pray for peace. Local clergy members said they planned to act as peacemakers if necessary during the rally.
Staff writer Jake Jarvis contributed to this report. Reach Carlee Lammers at email@example.com, 304-348-1230 or follow @carleelammers on Twitter.