Earlier this December, while I was visiting family in the US, Israel closed its doors to foreign nationals and I got grounded in Richmond, Virginia. During my stay I became re-acquainted with the city of my childhood and one of the more notable changes was the monument of Confederate general Robert E. Lee. The monuments pediment had been covered with graffiti art and writing that reads, “Black Lives Matter,” “I CAN’T BREATHE,” “F*** the police,” “Black Trans Women,” “BLACK & BROWN UNITY,” and surrounded by basketball hoops, a small community garden, the occasional barbeque, and numerous photos of people lost to police gun violence.
After the murder of George Floyd last year protests and demonstrations exploded across the United States with Richmond gaining special attention around the world. Throughout the entire summer hundreds of protestors and supporters rallied on the steps of the Lee pediment. My childhood friend who was present at some of these rallies told me “people were gathering there every single day and people were marching every night, they had places where you could get food and water and it became this place of community.” The site was renamed the Marcus David Peters Circle and today is still very much a space for community.
I reached out to Dr. Ram Bhagat the founder of the non-profit Drums No Guns dedicated to addressing the trauma of gun violence in schools and communities to comment on the reclamation of the site. Dr Bhagat has created and contributed to many projects on environmental and social justice that address racial violence and history. He recounted that, “the violence that minority communities are experiencing today is just a remix of a much older violence, and restorative justice starts with acknowledgement. The United States is still struggling to acknowledge slavery in the way that it should. It’s about re-writing the history books on racial domination.”
The Marcus David Peters Circle is a historical re-write. What was once a monument to the glory of the Confederacy Dr. Bhagat told me “now represents a meeting point to fulfill unmet needs on a community level…The trauma the community has experienced at the hands of a corrupt system.”
This past Tuesday on the anniversary of George Floyd’s murder the United States was reminded that there is still work to be done rectifying the wrongs of police brutality and gun trauma. The Marcus David Peters Circle is part of that history and process. The space has the potential still to become a point of progress and dialogue between communities of color and white communities within the United States. “Richmond could be a lighthouse,” said Dr. Bhagat, “a beacon for how an American city addresses it’s unhealed past.”
Link to Dr. Ram Bhagat’s Website: