After 24 days without major clashes between police and protesters, demonstrations on Saturday night into Sunday morning ended with six arrests, damage to several businesses and VCU properties, and a city dump truck in flames outside Richmond police headquarters.
City officials said supporters of both left-wing and right-wing movements attended the protests, which were advertised as being in support of protesters in Portland, Ore.
Richmond Mayor Levar Stoney said at a news conference on Sunday that white supremacists marched among the hundreds of protesters who wove through downtown Richmond before stopping at the Richmond Police Department headquarters.
Notably, gun-toting members of the Boogaloo Boys — a far-right anti-government group bent on igniting a second Civil War — were seen at the event.
“What changed last night? Let me tell you what I think changed last night,” Stoney said. “There were white supremacists marching under the banner of Black Lives Matter, intending to undermine an otherwise overwhelmingly peaceful movement.”
He added: “Last night takes us more steps backwards.”
Later in the news conference, Police Chief Gerald Smith said adherents to antifa also came out to march.
RPD tweeted an image of batteries, rocks and other objects they said were thrown at police outside their headquarters, prompting “an unlawful assembly being declared.”
During Sunday’s news conference, Smith described the flyer shared ahead of the march as intending to stoke “intimidation and fear into the community.” He believes the flyer originated from outside city lines.
“It’s clear that this group came in order to bring violence and disruption to the city of Richmond,” Smith said.
Of the six arrested overnight, four are from Richmond. One is from Hampton, and another, age 28, is from Hopewell and is charged with assaulting a law enforcement officer, a felony, and rioting, a misdemeanor.
Five of the men are charged with unlawful assembly, a misdemeanor charge, while one, a 29-year-old from Richmond, is also charged with rioting with a firearm, which is a felony.
All six are men, ages 26 to 36.
Police say all six were part of a group of several hundred protesters who marched through downtown Saturday night. While none of the men was arrested on charges of property damage, Smith said during Sunday’s news conference that RPD is “utilizing a lot of video” to identify those engaged in destruction of property overnight.
Around the same time that demonstrators marched through the city, an altercation involving gunfire and racial slurs occurred between two armed individuals — one a protester and another a self-professed veteran, according to a video shared on social media.
The latter individual exited his vehicle before engaging in a verbal altercation with a protester and firing his weapon onto the asphalt.
As he drove off, racist slurs were shouted. Smith said RPD intends to investigate the incident, but no other details were currently available.
The marchers, whom Smith characterized as majority-white, started off in Monroe Park just after 9:30 p.m. and went through downtown before heading to RPD headquarters.
RPD declared an unlawful assembly just after 11 p.m. Saturday as hundreds of protesters gathered outside the headquarters on West Grace Street.
Shortly after that declaration, some protesters shattered windows of city dump trucks used to block off the area around the RPD headquarters and set one of them on fire. Then, police deployed chemical agents and flash-bangs to disperse the crowd of more than 200.
After police secured the scene, fire crews put out the burning dump truck. Firefighters faced projectiles thrown by protesters, such as “bricks, batteries and rocks,” Smith said.
The march continued around the Fan District after the crowd was dispersed from RPD headquarters. Marchers lit fire to several dumpsters.
Damage occurred in and around the VCU campus, Richmond police said, especially to buildings and businesses in the 800 block of West Grace.
The damage done to VCU’s Monroe Park campus during Saturday night’s protest is expected to be assessed at more than $100,000, according to VCU President Michael Rao. He also asked for the commonwealth’s attorney to press charges against anyone involved.
Calling it “heartbreaking to see,” Rao said more than 80 windows were shattered and dozens of buildings were damaged and tagged with graffiti. He also said furniture had been dragged out into the street and damaged.
“Both Richmond and VCU police tell us the demonstrators were different last night compared to those participating in other peaceful demonstrations that occurred in Richmond over the last several weeks,” Rao said in a message to university and health system students, faculty and staff Sunday afternoon.
“The protest was promoted in social media and flyers to be destructive, ostensibly to support protests in Portland. We are concerned about groups that promote destruction and violence co-opting important social justice reform movements.”
Rao went on to say: “VCU supports free speech and stands in solidarity with those peacefully expressing messages of social justice and equity for all people. VCU does not condone — under any circumstance — acts of violence or vandalism, regardless of the purported cause. Violence against people and deliberate destruction of property are contrary to the values of our community and will not be tolerated.”
Business owners along West Grace Street woke up to shattered windows and spray-painted storefronts. Crews and business owners spent Sunday morning and afternoon boarding up the windows smashed at nearly every storefront from the 800 block to the 1000 block of West Grace.
Josh Rueger, owner of Village Cafe, was nervous when he first saw the flyer promoting Saturday’s march. When protests turned violent in May, the to-go tent outside the cafe was burned down and one of his windows was smashed, but he still decided against boarding up his windows ahead of protests on Saturday.
Overnight, one of his windows was broken — the same one that was shattered nearly two months prior.
“We’re lucky that’s all that happened,” Rueger said.
While Village Cafe opened as usual on Sunday morning, the Noodles & Co. store on West Grace Street closed for the day, after demonstrators threw rocks through five windows. David Lambert, a local optician who has owned the building since 2003, had hoped that the “Black-owned” sign he had displayed on his storefront would deter demonstrators from targeting his restaurant.
One of his windows was smashed amid protests in late May, too.
“It’s just sad how even the Black-owned businesses get hit,” Lambert said.
Still, he hopes to see all charges against protesters dropped and has himself attended several recent protests. Lambert, who says he’s “been with Black Lives Matter since he was born,” plans to guard his restaurant tonight to prevent further damage and engage in conversation with demonstrators.
Next door to Noodles & Co., the Chipotle Mexican Grill had several windows broken. The Richmond Fire Department responded to the location in the 800 block of West Grace early Sunday where flames could be seen coming from the front of the restaurant.
Its windows were completely shattered, as protesters continued to march through downtown Richmond and the Fan District. - Ali Sullivan
News from Saturday:
The Richmond Police Department declared an unlawful assembly just after 11 p.m. Saturday night as hundreds of protesters gathered outside its downtown headquarters on West Grace Street.
Shortly after that declaration, and after some protesters shattered windows of city dump trucks used to block off the area around the RPD headquarters and set one of them on fire, police deployed chemical agents and flash bangs to disperse the crowd of more than 200 protesters.
After securing the scene, fire crews put out the burning dump truck.
The scene outside of police headquarters was immediately tense as the crowd arrived, with some protesters taunting officers and seemingly trying to goad them into action.
Hundreds of protesters left out of Monroe Park just after 9:30 p.m. and marched through downtown before heading to the RPD headquarters.
A reporter from the Richmond Times-Dispatch and one from the Commonwealth Times were nearly detained in the aftermath at RPD headquarters. Both were running from the scene after being disoriented by the flash bangs and chemical agents that were used, when they stopped in a parking lot and were surrounded by more than five police officers.
Smith told The Times-Dispatch on Sunday afternoon that he will make a thorough inquiry into the incident and that it will be under review.
Officers forced them against the wall and binded their hands behind their back while they repeatedly identified themselves as working press and showed state-issued press badges. They were eventually released.
Word of Saturday night's protest had been widely circulated on social media in the days leading up to it, with some aggressive language against police and federal government in a flyer made by a group saying they stood in support of the people protesting in Portland, Ore. The flyer also insinuated doing damage during the protest.
The flyer and march was not organized by the Black youth who’ve been at the forefront of Richmond’s protests, which have continued for nearly 60 straight days.
Around 12:45 a.m. Sunday, Richmond police tweeted a video of an officer extinguishing a mattress that was set on fire in the middle of Cary Street in the Fan. - Sabrina Moreno