Richmond police disperse protest encampment, charge 12
RICHMOND, Va. (AP) — Twelve people in Virginia’s capital city were arrested and charged with participating in an unlawful assembly after police said they refused orders to disperse from an overnight occupation at Richmond City Hall.
Police officers arrived around midnight Monday to “deal with” the occupation of protesters who had been distributing flyers indicating they planned to stay in place for the long term, the department said in a statement Tuesday afternoon.
The protesters threw traffic cones, barricades and concrete trash cans into the street, used vehicles to block off the street, set up tents in front of the City Hall entrance doors, and threw rocks and other objects at the officers, the department said.
The department tweeted at 12:45 a.m. that an unlawful assembly had been declared. The Commonwealth Times, the independent newspaper of Virginia Commonwealth University, reported that officers used tear gas, pepper spray and flash bangs to disperse the crowd. The department did not address those measures in its statement and didn’t immediately respond to an inquiry from The Associated Press.
One of the protesters was also charged with four counts of assault on a law enforcement officer, according to the department, which said an officer was injured when he was struck on the arm.
All of those arrested are from Virginia, according to police, and all but one are from Richmond.
The gathering — dubbed “Reclamation Square,” according to the Richmond Times-Dispatch — had started forming Monday evening after state officials announced the grounds of a monument to Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee a couple of miles away would be indefinitely closed from sunset until sunrise every night.
Gov. Ralph Northam has announced plans to remove the Lee statue from the monument, which has become a rallying place for demonstrators in Richmond. Protests — including some with violent clashes between police and demonstrators — erupted over the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis and have also focused on police reform and accountability.
At the Lee statue, protesters had remained after sunset, and the Times-Dispatch reported that police late Monday stood nearby but were not closing in on the people.
A statement from the state’s Department of General Services cited an increase in vandalism, trespassing, excessive noise and more for closing the monument grounds.
Northam also noted the enormous size of the 12-ton statue at a news conference Tuesday in explaining his decision to implement closures of the grounds, saying there was a safety and liability issue.
The governor said he supports peaceful protests but that after the sun goes down, “there seems to be a different agenda.”
“Clearly Richmond needs a different path forward,” he said. “These nightly conflicts cannot continue indefinitely.”