Virginia Beach disparity study supporters to march Atlantic Avenue Saturday

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Saturday's protest flyer. (Photo courtesy of Facebook)
Saturday’s protest flyer. (Photo courtesy of Facebook)

VIRGINIA BEACH — Protesters will march 40 blocks on Atlantic Avenue at the Oceanfront Saturday with the goal of generating local government support for a disparity study in the resort city.

The protest starts at 11 a.m. at the Rudee Loop parking lot between 2nd and 3rd Street, which is the site where former NFL player and businessman Bruce Smith said he’d pay for half of the study in November. It’s scheduled to end at 2 p.m. at the Cavalier Hotel.

“We’re inviting citizens of Virginia Beach, and frankly throughout the region to come to this march,” protest organizer Gary McCollum said to city council Tuesday. “If you stand with us against this culture of discrimination and cronyism … this is 2017 and we cannot stand for this.”

McCollum said organizing the march wasn’t free.

“We were surprised to find out that freedom isn’t necessarily free,” McCollum said in an interview with Southside Daily.

When applying for the march’s permit, McCollum and Reverend James Allen were told by the special events department the price tag $5,400 – much more than they initially had planned for.

“This is such an important issue that we were willing to go ahead and do it,” Allen said. “We had people who were willing to donate money to make sure that this march happened.”

Mayor Will Sessoms said at city council’s informal session Tuesday that he supports a disparity study to be conducted in phases, and gave city manager Dave Hansen direction to begin requesting proposals from consultants for the first phase.

“The perception out there is that we’re not doing enough, and it’s been pretty steady, and I’m accepting that we must do more,” Mayor Will Sessoms said at city council’s informal session Tuesday. “I’m supporting a full disparity study. Whatever the end result is, it is.”

Despite the government’s support, McCollum said conducting the study in phases isn’t enough.

“Until there is language directing the city manager to do a full disparity study … we stand by our belief that the city continues to call something a full disparity study, when in fact it isn’t,” McCollum said.

“We think it’s somewhat disingenuous, we think it can actually be misleading, and we do believe that the city needs to make a full commitment to doing a disparity study.”

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