June 03, 2020
Re: FORMAL COMPLAINT – May 30, 2020 violent attack by police in Roanoke City Virginia
Roanoke City Chief of Police Roman
Roanoke City Manager Cowell
Members of City Council
Sherman Lea Sr.
(Please see attachments as supporting documentation of my formal complaints)
I am Bernadette BJ Lark, a Black American female. I live in Roanoke Virginia with 15+ years serving my community in arts, and education. I am a mother of 3. I have a MBA, and minor master in education. I was previously employed as a teacher in Roanoke City Public Schools for 8+ years. I am currently employed as an educator at Jefferson Center Music Lab for 5+years. I have been recognized as a Roanoke Citizen of the Year for Arts and NAACP youth Impactor’s recipient. I have been violently attacked by Roanoke City Police and law enforcement officers. Memorializing this trauma is extremely tasking, and I’ll do my best documenting this formal complaint.
My delay in submitting this communication memorializing my experiences and eye-witness accounts is because I’m still trying to process the trauma of being violently attacked and violated by law enforcement. I’m memorializing my experiences and witnessed accounts during my walk from Washington Park to Roanoke City, VA police department on Saturday May 30, 2020.
My experience has been that Roanoke City Virginia leaders behave as if they need to see the reprehensible behavior of law enforcement, to acknowledge it. It shouldn’t have to be this way, but it is. We need to see it to acknowledge the truth that it exists.
The history that Roanoke VA leaders have taught me is the need to actually see injustice before leaders will fully accept it. Morally, and ethically, that is not a good thing, but a disturbing truth to my trauma.
Kionte Spencer and George Floyd are not the first Black Americans to be murdered by police. We all know the horrific actions of the Minneapolis police would have been covered up if it wasn’t for the videos being exposed to the public. Kionte Spencer’s and George Floyd’s inexcusable deaths might have gone unnoticed by most of the country.
Rodney King, along with myself, were not the first Black Americans attacked by police. But King’s beating caught on video by Los Angeles cops in the early 1990s was where many Americans had no choice but to acknowledge this reprehensible behavior.
Roanoke City Police and other law enforcement have been videoed on Saturday May 30, 2020 using (what I believe to have been) tear gas, pepper spray, paint and rubber bullets. These violent, and harmful things came raining down on me, and numerous other unarmed individuals.
I watched as police were putting on armored gear, and ballistic-like hardware with snipers targeting me, and unarmed civilians including children in non-violent protests.
This militarization of Roanoke’s police department was on full display during my walk, as many would describe as “a simple march.” The response was unwarranted and extremely violent.
I witnessed an armed white man confront law enforcement and appeared to flaunt his rights without suffering bodily harm on Saturday May 30, 2020. My experience was totally different; as an unarmed Black female I was violently attacked by law enforcement.
Saturday’s violent attack vividly reminded me that not long ago angry armed White men destroyed property and murdered Blacks when James Meredith attempted to integrate “Ole Miss” before 3,000 federal troops quelled the riot in 1962.
I remember how angry armed white men beat down and attempted to burn and murder the bodies of Freedom Riders in Birmingham and Anniston, Alabama. I remember the video of angry armed White law enforcement in Selma, Alabama trampling and beating unarmed nonviolent Black protesters on the Edmund Pettis Bridge in 1965.
I also remember in all of these hate-filled instances police/law enforcement stood by and watched without impeding. Birmingham Police Commissioner Bull Connor made it clear to the hate-filled racist mobsters that, “when the bus arrives at the terminal, the mob will have 15 minutes to burn, bomb, kill and maim without police intervention or arrests.” This violence was unleashed on Freedom Riders. The FBI was aware and knowledgeable of the attack in Birmingham way ahead of time and decided not to intervene.
More recently, I’m reliving the trauma of Roof murdering nine black members of the Mother Emmanuel Church in Charleston, South Carolina. This emboldened avowed white supremacist Dylann Roof was treated with more care and respect than I received. Law enforcement provided a meal from Burger King during his interrogation by police.
The way I was attacked Saturday, coupled with all of these examples of law and disorder are singed in my collective memory and many other Black people. When I see our community being devastated by the COVID-19 pandemic and institutional racism, it is a blatantly clear reminder that white people can arm themselves in so-called peaceful demonstrations while no alarm bells go off among most of their white peers.
The hypocrisy is plain as day, undeniable. Dr. King was celebrated because he took a non-violent stand against violent mobs of white citizens and law enforcement agencies.
Investigate the sources of any false claims that informed non-violent individuals made “premeditated, retaliatory lethal” attacks on police, and/or government buildings May 30. I can assure you this will be proven to be not only highly inaccurate and inflammatory, but incited opposition to the Black Lives Matter actions and protests in and around Roanoke City Virginia.
Why were the white people freely permitted to carry assault weapons and not be attacked by Roanoke City Police and law enforcement on Saturday?
Roanoke has a clear double standard for armed whites versus me. I don’t even care if there is a law that allows open carry in place because I know that this would never be allowed if the people with military grade assault rifles were not white. And don’t try to convince me that these were simply Americans taking advantage of their Second Amendment rights.
I know that none of these individuals who walked from Washington Park May 30 included assault weapons carried by someone other than the heavily armed police and white men. Can you imagine what the news coverage would have said if just one Black man showed up at one of these Black Lives Matter protests with a weapon? All hell would have broken lose; you know this is truth.
I’m struggling to continue processing in words what I experienced, but I’m hopeful you will communicate with me as soon as possible to begin the healing process for me, and possibly others.
Bernadette BJ Lark (BJ Brown)
Community ARTS-reach Founder, Artistic Director
P.S.: Here is what I shared with concerned community members on social media for review:
For those who told me to stay at home where it is safe don’t protest……for those who told me covid19 is an invisible disease……racism is an invisible evil deadly disease.
Breonna Taylor. Shot to death AT HOME. The suspect they claimed they were looking for was already in police custody.
Aiyana Mo’Nay Stanley-Jones (July 20, 2002 – May 16, 2010), was a seven-year-old African-American girl from Detroit who was shot in the head and killed by Officer Joseph Weekley during a raid – AT HOME – conducted by the Detroit Police Department’s Special Response Team on May 16, 2010.
Atatiana Jefferson was shot to death in her Fort Worth, Texas, AT HOME in front of her 8-year-old nephew by a white police officer who opened fire through her bedroom window.
Botham Shem Jean at the Greenville Avenue Church of Christ in Richardson, Texas, Sept. 13, 2018. Jean was shot and killed by Dallas police officer Amber Guyger in his apartment in Dallas – AT HOME.
Williams, an Air Force veteran and mailman, called police during an armed robbery at his house, but was shot by police when they arrived – AT HOME.
The list goes on and on and on: Racism is so bad that police would come to BLACK AMERICAN homes, pull individuals out of their homes, and lynch us.
Government/RACISTS set fires to HUMAN FLESH, homes, businesses, and churches in Black communities. FACTS. Don’t bark Jim Crow law of unlawful assembly at me. Covid-19 is a real invisible threat to my health. RACISM is a real invisible threat to my life that I face daily.
I didn’t plan to watch George Floyd’s murder, just like I didn’t plan for the Covid-19 pandemic. I respond how I choose about what matters to me. You do what your heart/soul instructs you to do and I’ll continue to do what I can, while I can, when I can, for who I can.
I did not protest any constitutional rights yesterday, I protested for the UNBEARABLE recognized grief of Black American Mothers! Mothers of Black Americans!
Thank you for loving me and caring for me. I love you all so very much too. 📢❤️in this TOGETHER
One photo #JusticeForKionte 2016 -myself and 2 individuals…..photo from yesterday’s protest 2020! IT’S REAL TO ME…….look at Roanoke City put snipers on the roof top – where are those snipers, pepper spray, paint guns, rubber bullets, mace, batons, tasers, during my time of protest with a much larger protest group Woman’s March 🤔😠🤔???…… systemic racism is evil. I was at the front TALKING PEACEFULLY WITH THE POLICE and after their countdown to PEACEFUL protesters they implemented their VIOLENT BRUTAL TACTICS… completely unprovoked …if you were not there then your reports could be flawed! I’m wearing my purple Dashiki..the same one I spoke to the protesters in at Washington Park yesterday before the March against police brutality. If gathering and marching is dangerous, then parades should be cancelled…..WE TOLD THE POLICE WE WOULD NEVER BURN THE JAILHOUSE! (as they ludicrously informed)….OUR BROTHERS AND SISTERS ARE IN THOSE CAGES!!!
Ms. Bernadette Brown, top left; Armed open carry white man, top right; Police sniper on roof, bottom right; Police launching canister at unarmed non-violent protesters, bottom left; #Saytheirnames-Stop the Killing March For Justice in Roanoke, VA.
All photos May 30, 2020 Roanoke, Virginia
Roanoke, VA May 30, 2020 / Photos: Sana Baban