Police swarmed a group of roughly 50 people and cleared Monroe Park late Sunday, making 17 arrests throughout a second night of flare-ups between demonstrators and officers.
Speaking at Richmond police headquarters against the backdrop of a city dump truck that had been lit ablaze over the weekend, Police Chief Gerald Smith characterized officers’ actions as proactive in response to a flyer advertising Sunday’s demonstration.
Smith described the flyer as intimidating and “wanting to produce fear” in the city of Richmond. The flyer included the phrases “This is just the beginning” and “Richmond will not stop” in all capital letters, as well as expletives directed at police, white supremacy and fascism.
Its verbiage was similar to a flyer circulated ahead of Saturday night’s protests, which ended with six arrests and widespread property damage. Based on the flyer, Smith said RPD “knew violence was coming” and began arresting individuals gathered in Monroe Park shortly after 10 p.m., which was the starting time advertised for the demonstration.
Protesters have rallied in Monroe Park on numerous occasions, including both before and after nightfall. Rarely has their nighttime presence in the park prompted mass arrests.
“Monroe Park is clearly closed at dusk,” Smith said.
Some demonstrators were tackled and handcuffed on the peripheries of the park, others after they had crossed the street. Richmond geographic information system data shows that the sidewalks encircling Monroe Park are not part of the park itself.
Police could be heard yelling, “If they’re in the park, grab them” and telling protesters and reporters alike, “Keep moving or go to jail.” A student journalist from The Commonwealth Times, Virginia Commonwealth University’s student-run newspaper, was briefly detained while attempting to exit the park.
Smith said individuals who were arrested outside of or while exiting park grounds were “unlawfully in the park first.”
“When the police came, and they knew — and I think they knew — that they were violating the rules of the law, they tried to remove themselves,” he said. “They had already broken the law before we caught them on the sidewalk.”
Six individuals were charged only with trespassing. Another adult was arrested for blocking traffic, not wearing a seat belt and not having a driver’s license in his possession.
Three others were charged with transporting a loaded rifle within city limits. Two other people were charged with rioting with a weapon, a felony.
Other charges include possessing a weapon with an extended magazine, rioting, pedestrian in the roadway, showing a false ID to police to avoid arrest, and possession with intent to deliver crack cocaine.
Those arrested range in age from 17 to 45 and include people who indicated they are from Richmond, Henrico County, Williamsburg, Falls Church and Herndon, authorities said. VCU police assisted RPD with seven of the 17 arrests.
Smith said three fires were set overnight Sunday into Monday and that windows had been smashed, including at VCU police headquarters.
“No chemical munitions were deployed last night,” he said.
Protesters later regrouped on Sunday night below the Robert E. Lee monument at the informally renamed Marcus-David Peters Circle. About double the number of people who originally gathered at Monroe Park then marched east on Broad Street to Sixth Street along with dozens of bicyclists and cars.
The march made a U-turn at East Broad and North Sixth streets and headed back toward the VCU campus. After stopping briefly at the corner of West Broad and Belvidere streets, the march was met by a line of police in riot gear at the corner of West Broad and North Hancock streets.
Police declared an unlawful assembly at that point, and marchers turned right on North Hancock before dispersing without direct confrontation with the police.
During the march, a dumpster across from the Dunkin’ Donuts on Goshen Street was set ablaze.
Smith said he recognizes protesters’ First Amendment right to demonstrate, but added that the flyers were trying to “stir it up” after 24 previous days of protests in Richmond that were free of significant clashes between demonstrators and police.
Referring to some of those involved in this past weekend’s protests, he said, “I don’t think they’re interested in it stopping.”
Smith said many protesters have made their message heard in recent weeks and that “many of those individuals have returned to their lives and are making a difference from where they sit and actually started to have conversations from the table from where they sit, to actually make change.”
“I’m not quite sure what the individuals who are left on the street, especially here in the last two days — I don’t think they’re interested in it stopping,” he added. “So right now, RPD will continue our stance and that is to make the city of Richmond safe. And we will also, for those who want to protest, we will help facilitate that First Amendment right.”
During the protests Saturday night, a reporter from the Richmond Times-Dispatch and one from The Commonwealth Times were nearly detained in the aftermath of the unrest at RPD headquarters. Both were running from the scene after being disoriented by the chemical agents and flash-bangs that were used, when they stopped in a parking lot and were surrounded by more than five police officers.
Officers forced them against a wall and bound their hands behind their back while they repeatedly identified themselves as working press and showed state-issued press badges. They were eventually released.
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.
During Monday’s news conference, Smith said tense confrontations between protesters and police prompt officers to look “very carefully” at those who claim to be members of the press.
He did not specifically confirm whether officers had encountered demonstrators falsely identifying themselves as journalists.
Smith also said he did not have an update on the investigation into a Saturday night incident during which an armed man exited his vehicle, engaged in a verbal spat with a protester and fired a gun into the asphalt. Someone in the vehicle yelled a racial slur as it pulled away.