Voices from the rally
Seven people were arrested at the pro-Confederate rally to protect the Robert E. Lee statue on Monument Avenue. on Saturday, Sept. 16.
CSA II: Confederate States of America, who had several supporters for their “Heritage not Hate” rally, were eclipsed by counter-protesters who showed up in the hundreds.
According to police, CSA organizers agreed to leave the rally because they felt like the situation was hostile. As they were exiting, counter-protesters chased the CSA members away from the Lee monument resulting in a slashed tire, towed truck and the organization eventually escaping.
Of the seven arrested, four were charged with wearing a mask in public, two for the illegal possession of a gun and one for disorderly conduct.
Khudai Tanveer, a VCU student and member of National Queer Asian Pacific Islander Alliance, attended Saturday’s rally as a counter-protester.
“Our history is written by oppressors,” Tanveer said. “The entirety of history is written by those who have won history, and it’s funny because these people didn’t even win and they’re still out here.”
Tara Brandau, who was the lead organizer of the rally, said CSA was asked to come to Virginia to hold a peaceful rally.
“We are here to protect the monuments and history — so that history doesn’t repeat itself,” said Brandau.
After their departure from the rally, Brandau set up a GoFundMe page to help members of CSA leave Virginia. The page was taken down within 24 hours of its creation.
VCU and Richmond community prepares
Following the events in Charlottesville, where white supremacists, pro-Confederate and neo-nazis lead a rally that left three dead and dozens injured, VCU and the Richmond community took high precautions to prevent violence.
VCU Pres. Michael Rao released a statement on Thursday, Sept. 14 warning students to stay away from the protests.
“We all have the freedom of speech, expression and peaceful assembly. As members of a research university community dedicated to education and creativity, we take those freedoms seriously,” Rao stated. “We also have the autonomy of sound judgment, and we recognize that difficult or contentious debates can be productive only when the threat of violence will not drown out our voices.”
Classes were cancelled on Saturday for both Monroe Park and MCV campuses. Students were asked to present their student ID when entering the Student Commons and Cabell Library, while all other academic buildings were locked.
VCU worked closely with state law enforcement agencies to create a plan to protect demonstrators who decided to show up on Saturday.
Seven agencies from around the state were led by Richmond Police to control and monitor the events of Saturday. The effort included police departments from VCU, The Capitol, Virginia, Chesterfield and Henrico.
During a press conference on Thursday, Sept. 14, Richmond Police, VCU PD and Richmond Mayor Levar Stoney warned the public that anyone who breaks the law will be apprehended.
“Let me be clear, we will not tolerate the activity, any activity in our city that promotes or provokes causes of violence against individuals or property or endangers public health or public safety,” Stoney said.
The plan included various street closures around Monument Avenue where the rally was held. Barricades were placed around the monument, surrounding streets and on VCU’s campus. There were three entrances to Monument Avenue at the east and west sides of the monument and North Lombardy Street.
Police officers dressed in riot gear often stood between the pro-Confederate protesters and counter-protesters.
Counter-protesters descend to monuments
There was an accompanying counter-protest organized by the Richmond Peace Education Center, Virginia Interfaith Center for Public Policy and First Unitarian Universalist Church of Richmond at the Maggie L. Walker statue located in Jackson Ward.
Upwards of 100 people showed up to rally peacefully and then march to the Lee statue where they meet pro-Confederate protesters.
Several members of Black Lives Matter, Greater New York were present at the rallies at both statues.
Nupol Kiazolu, a BLM protester, said the organization was present in Charlottesville and was back again in Virginia to fight what they saw as an example of white supremacy.
Kiazolu said she was injured in the “Unite the Right” rally when a white nationalist repeatedly punched her in the back. It left her with a back brace and weeks of recovery, but she said she wanted to show up for the city of Richmond.
“I had to be here. Their hate, bigotry and terrorism will not deter me,” Kiazolu said. “I’m just getting a taste of what my ancestors went through — I have to carry on that fighting spirit.”
Crowds and police presence began to dwindle as the afternoon continued. However, there was a moment of tension between police, protesters and various media outlets in front of the First English Lutheran Church, located at the corner of Monument Avenue and North Lombardy Street.
Police intervened when protesters from both sides began yelling at the media to stop filming and photographing them as a pair of Richmonders argued their opposing views.
The hostility towards media was apparent when the counter-protesters, which consisted of members from Antifa — an anti-fascist organization — marched away from the Lee statue towards the intersection of West Broad Street and North Belvedere Street.
Chants like, “take pics, get hit,” “death to the Confederates” and “white silence is violence” were among the roughly 50 people who eventually looped back to the Lee monument.
Protesters minds left unchanged
Many protesters like Tanveer and Kiazolu came to the event to protect their city while Trandau and statue sympathizers came to protect their heritage.
Chris Willis, a pro-Confederate protester, caught the attention of bystanders with his sign that read, “I am anti-Nazi, anti-white supremacist, pro-statue.”
“Trump ain’t no damn racist,” Willis said. “All lives matter.”
People from both sides met on Monument Avenue to talk about their views on the statues, but many walked away with their minds unchanged.
“If your heritage is dependent on hate and on people being enslaved and that is what you’re here to stand by, then it doesn’t matter to me that you’re anti-racist because to me you are,” Tanveer said.
Staff writer, SaraRose Martin, and contributing writer, Fadel Allassan, contributed to this report.
Hiba is a senior studying broadcast journalism and religious studies. In addition to writing for the CT, she is the campus editor-at-large for the Huffington Post. She is a former production assistant for Voice of America in Washington D.C.
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