Protesters occupied grounds outside Richmond, Virginia’s city hall Monday night before being attacked and chased away by police, who fired rubber bullets, pepper spray, and other weapons to disperse them.
“I never thought I'd wake up one day & see the state capitol I write laws in look like the West Bank under occupation,” state delegate Ibraheem Samirah, whose grandparents were Palestinian refugees, tweeted on Tuesday.
About a hundred protesters set up several tents and an encampment outside City Hall, calling it “Reclamation Square.” In a solidarity statement shared on Facebook, the protesters demanded, among other reforms, the defunding of police and a reopening of the investigation into the 2018 police shooting death of 24-year-old Marcus-David Peters, a Black man and high school biology teacher who was shot while undergoing what protesters described as a “mental health crisis.”
One of their demands is the creation of a “Marcus Alert System,” which would send mental health professionals, not cops, as first responders in cases of suspected mental health crises.
Police fired rubber bullets, tear gas, pepper spray, and other munitions at unarmed protesters and press alike, using violent tactics that have been widely condemned to break up an act of civil disobedience.
Monday marked the 25th straight day of protests in Richmond, which has become a hotbed for protests since the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis last month. The unrest in Richmond is due in no small part to its status as the former capital of the Confederacy and the ongoing large role of Confederate history in the city, not to mention the death of Peters and others killed by police, and the city’s own history with police brutality.
In addition to the protest at City Hall, another group of protesters gathered at a Robert E. Lee statue in another part of the city, which protesters renamed Marcus-David Peters Circle, according to the Richmond Times-Dispatch. Gov. Ralph Northam ordered the removal of the monument to the Confederate general earlier this month, but a lawsuit and injunction handed down by a judge has delayed removal.
The crowd at Marcus-David Peters Circle had thinned out by 11 p.m., according to the Richmond Times-Dispatch. But Richmond police declared Reclamation Square an “unlawful assembly” shortly after midnight on Tuesday morning.
Police had cleared the encampment by morning.
Northam and Richmond Mayor Levar Stoney, both Democrats, were sharply criticized by top progressives in the Virginia state Legislature for the police response to the protests.
“It is a new height in depravity that the Northam administration used an anti-Nazi measure (approved after the 2017 Charlottesville attack) to drive anti-racism activists from MDP Circle in Richmond,” state delegate Lee Carter, one of the few open socialists serving in any state government, said on Twitter.
Richmond’s former police chief, Will Smith, resigned last week, but the new pick is already controversial: Interim police chief William “Jody” Blackwell—who is Black—shot and killed a Black Air Force aircraft mechanic Jeramy Gilliam in 2002.
Because of Blackwell’s killing of Gilliam, Grammy-nominated singer and Virginia native Trey Songz called for Mayor Stoney to step down on Monday.
Cover: Protesters shield themselves from rain as they surround the statue of Confederate General Robert E. Lee on Monument Avenue, Monday June 22, 2020, in Richmond, Va. The state closed the area around the statue from sunset to sunrise. (AP Photo/Steve Helber)