Hannah Eason, Managing Editor
Andrew Ringle, Executive Editor
Police used what appeared to be tear gas, explosives and pepper spray on protesters within minutes of demonstrators arriving at the Richmond police headquarters on Monday night.
Protesters marched after sunset from Monroe Park to the headquarters, where officers from Richmond and Virginia State Police waited with zip ties and pepper spray. Many officers wore masks with visors and body armor.
After a standoff with police at Madison and Grace streets around 9:45 p.m., demonstrators marched through an alley to reach a parking lot at Grace and Jefferson streets. Less than 30 minutes later, VSP officers pushed protesters and reporters from the lot with chemical agents and explosives — seemingly without warning.
Police are using explosives and smoke on demonstrators. I have a lot of videos and it is very hectic here. pic.twitter.com/USVbojIqEC
— Andrew Ringle (@aeringle) June 16, 2020
Many protesters in the parking lot were cornered by police with their backs against the wall of a neighboring building. Officers continued to use force as demonstrators fled toward the lot’s side exits.
The lot, which faces the police headquarters, was the focal point of protests on Sunday night. Police used pepper spray and what appeared to be tear gas multiple times throughout the night on hundreds of protesters.
After medics treated injured demonstrators on Monday, a large group of protesters regrouped in Monroe Park around 11 p.m. More than 50 demonstrators then returned to the headquarters, where they faced officers in a line for longer than an hour at Madison and Grace streets.
Demonstrator Brinnay Bell said out of nearly three weeks of protests, Monday night was the worst. Bell said she has been to half of the Richmond protests that were sparked by the death of George Floyd, a black man who died in police custody in Minneapolis.
“We did nothing to them and they just started shooting,” Bell said of Monday’s protest in Richmond.
On June 1, Bell was in the crowd at the Robert E. Lee monument, where she says she was shot with a rubber bullet while police officers deployed tear gas on demonstrators. Protesters were gathered at the statue 30 minutes before the mandated curfew, which was lifted days later.
“It was peaceful until the police intervened,” Bell said.
Police use of tear gas deescalated after the incident at the Lee statue –– Richmond Police Chief William Smith apologized for the “unwarranted” action and pulled the officers from the field –– but crowd control tactics escalated again on Sunday and Monday.
Protesters on Sunday demanded the release of Michaela Hatton, a demonstrator who was charged with felony assault on an officer and conspiracy to incite a riot. Richmond Police stated in a release that Hatton crossed the police line during protests “after repeated warnings not to do so.”
“Organizers were intent on provocation and creating mayhem by throwing rocks and other objects at the officers on duty, who showed great restraint in response to these attacks,” the release regarding Sunday’s protests stated.
Davis Market, a convenience store at 301 W. Grace St., has remained open during the Richmond demonstrations. Many protesters visited the store on Monday before it closed at midnight, purchasing facemasks and other supplies.
Adnan Mahasess, the owner of Davis Market, had free water bottles outside his shop for demonstrators to take as they passed. He said he’s been watching the protests from inside the store for two weeks.
“What pisses me off is there has been no action, nobody listening to the protesters,” Mahasess said. “A lot of people tried to tell me to shut down or close, but I was like ‘no.’”
Mahasess said his business was affected by VCU’s closure due to COVID-19. Now, with many students out of town, he says he’s staying open in support of Richmond’s demonstrators.
“We are in the same boat,” Mahasess said. “We are united together.”