Volunteers carrying trash bags, brooms and grabber tools walked the streets of downtown Fredericksburg Monday morning, both wanting to help clean up the city and trying to process what happened Sunday night.
The city called a state of emergency and imposed a curfew lasting from 11:30 p.m. Sunday to 6 a.m. Monday morning after police used tear gas to disperse a crowd of protesters gathered downtown.
The Caroline Street door of Bodyworks Downtown Athletic Club appeared to have been shattered during the protests and a window at Corky’s Military Surplus store further down Caroline was boarded up Monday morning.
The slave auction block at the corner of William and Charles streets was spray-painted with profanity and graffiti tags.
Other than these signs of violence, the streets of Fredericksburg were largely unmarked by Sunday’s events, but people gathered downtown Monday morning were hurting and grieving.
“I think there are a lot of people who just need to be together, to show up and be in solidarity with each other,” said Meghann Cotter, executive director of Micah Ecumenical Ministries, a network of churches that minister to the city’s homeless population.
Another group of area churches organized cleanup efforts to begin downtown Monday morning.
In Market Square, these efforts turned into an impromptu prayer circle. Members of several different area churches gathered with heads bowed and hands uplifted.
“These black bodies are the new temple [of Christ],” prayed Gregg Jennings, pastor of Common Ground Church, which meets Sunday mornings at The Inn at the Olde Silk Mill on Princess Anne Street. “Give us eyes to see, to weep and to respond not just with platitudes, but with action. We pray for empathy in the hearts of every person in this country.”
Brandon Woodard, who leads New Post Church in Spotsylvania County with his wife, Leah, prayed for God’s spirit to fall “on both the protesters and the police.”
“I pray that the police make wise decisions ... and that the protesters show restraint, but that their voices are heard louder than ever,” he said. “Let us lift Fredericksburg up as an example to the nation.”
Amie Burkholder, a member of Common Ground, was with the group in Market Square Monday morning.
“I don’t know that there was a real plan,” she said. “We just all found ourselves here.”
Burkholder said she heard noise from the protest Sunday night from her home in the Ferry Farm area of southern Stafford.
“We heard a sound like a cannon three times, and I guess that was the tear gas being deployed,” she said.
Burkholder said she was surprised by the forceful response to the protest. Marches and protests around the area Saturday and earlier Sunday had been peaceful.
“I feel like in Fredericksburg we’re isolated from some of these bigger things,” she said. “But the hurt runs deep.”
Others said they weren’t surprised.
Jennings said that after he learned Sunday morning that buildings had been set on fire in Richmond, he worried that protests planned in Fredericksburg could turned similarly violent, even though the march from Mayfield to Fredericksburg City Hall Saturday was done “in a beautiful way.”
“I had a feeling in my gut and it was not a good feeling,” he said. “So I wasn’t surprised. People are angry. And I get that.”
Jennings said that what he and others gathered Monday morning were really doing was “grieving.”
Woodard said that he and the other pastors plan to reach out to Mayor Mary Katherine Greenlaw’s office to see if they can be contacted first to clean up the streets in the event of another violent protest, to free up city and police resources.
“And then we’ll get together and ask what else we can do,” he said.