Although Richmond City Police could not confirm it at press time, news sources reported that about 100 people got out of control and several were arrested late Sunday afternoon following a protest in Monroe Park. The crowd became unruly after more than 500 students and community members gathered to express their views about the war with Iraq.
Tyler New, a freshman information systems major and a protester, said he saw the events unfold.
“It was supposed to be a peaceful rally. They were marching and came back to the park,” he said. “The police told them they couldn’t stay because it was getting dark. They started dispersing and the SWAT team began chasing after them, arresting some people.”
Elizabeth Jacobs, a freshman psychology major, witnessed the events as well.
“They were going into other parts of Richmond and disrupting the city streets,” she said.
The event, sponsored by the Richmond Peace Coalition, was in conjunction with Food, Not Bombs’ weekly meal for Richmond’s homeless.
Claudette Baker of Food, Not Bombs said she came to the rally to protest the war.
“It’s a free country,” she said, adding that the United States should not be in Iraq to promote mass murder.”
Farhan Khan, a freshman political science major, agreed that the United States should not have initiated war.
“We should have let Resolution 1441 runs its course,” he said.
The crowd toted signs with slogans such as “No War For Oil,” “Bush is wrong, war will not make us safer” and “Give to the poor, not the war.” One sign was specifically aimed at the university, reading, “VCU, stop supporting Israeli terror.”
“It’s an unjust war,” said Anthony Seay, a student visiting from Virginia Polytechnic University. “We have no reason to be over there.”
Eric Cook, a senior at Manchester High School, came with a few of his friends and displayed an American flag with a peace sign over the stars.
“We believe there should be peace in America. We don’t want our troops over there in the first place,” Cook said, wearing a “Support our Troops, Bring ‘Em Home Alive” button.
Cook also attended a peace rally in Washington, D.C. last week in which 100,000 marched.
A member of the nonviolent ninjas, a street theater group, told the crowd to “F- -k s- -t up. Get angry,” before calling out chants such as “Good for the rich, bad for the poor, we don’t want your racist war,” “Hey, hey, ho, ho Bush and Cheney have to go.” One chant, “What the hell are we fighting for, make love not war,” was reminiscent of protesters during the Vietnam War.
Before the group headed west on Monument Avenue, they heard from a few speakers. One speaker, a member of VCU’s Free Palestine Now, said even though she is a Muslim she is also an American. She said she didn’t understand why America would attack Iraq since its army is in such disarray and couldn’t be a threat.
Not everyone at the park was against the war. Lauren Steele, a freshman nursing major, and Anmaree Ellenberger, a freshman art major, said they think some of the war protesters are uneducated about what is really going on in the world.
“I am for the war,” Steele said, as she held a poster with pictures of her three friends who are in the service.
Ellenberger said that the protesters think they’re patriotic by not supporting the war.
“(The soldiers) are there for a good reason,” she said.
Some supporters of the war were more obvious in their stance. One protester said someone objecting to the protest got out of his car and called the marchers communists.
A passer-by on a bicycle shouted, “…you have no right to protest this war.”
Paul Tarquinio, a freshman biology major, wore a shirt that read, “Go home hippies.” He said war protesters sometimes cause a lot of violence.
Violence among war protesters almost turned deadly for J.J. Dalton’s father. When the eldest Dalton returned home from the Vietnam War in 1968 he was confronted by an angry mob outside of a California airport. He was advised not to venture outside for fear of sniper attacks.
To ensure the Richmond protest remained peaceful, Richmond City Police were stationed around the park and throughout campus. Police Chief Andre Parker said his officers were there to make sure everyone had a chance to peacefully express their views.
“We don’t expect any problems,” he said, despite rumors that the protesters might be met with resistance.
The riot gear worn by some officers was routine for dealing with large crowds, Parker said. Medics were also on-hand to care for the crowd.
Sharon Ramos contributed to this story.