Andrew Ringle, Executive Editor
Richmond and Virginia State police officers deployed what appeared to be pepper spray, flash bangs and tear gas on demonstrators and reporters at the J.E.B. Stuart memorial on Sunday.
Protesters attempted to pull down the statue with rope before officers from the Richmond Police Department responded. Police announced through bullhorns that the gathering had been declared “unlawful,” urging protesters to disperse or face arrests or chemical agents.
VIDEO: Listen to me yell “I’m press” at officers as they started to use pepper spray on demonstrators. They sprayed me in my face and covered my phone. Shortly after, I was thrown to ground my an officer I bumped into. pic.twitter.com/Z6JJ79TSdY
— Andrew Ringle (@aeringle) June 22, 2020
More than 30 Richmond Police officers responded to the scene, and additional officers from Virginia State Police arrived at 9:50 p.m.
Richmond Police declared the demonstrations near the Stuart statue unlawful at around 9:20 p.m., the department tweeted on Sunday.
Some protesters threw bottles of liquid at police officers and returned flash bangs and tear gas devices that were rolled by police toward the crowd.
Richmond City Council representative Michael Jones arrived at the statue shortly after police used force to disperse crowds. Jones said he told police he was concerned about children gathered near the statue of Robert E. Lee one block away on Monument Avenue.
Around midnight on Sunday, City Councilwoman Stephanie Lynch asked for the city’s Confederate monuments to be removed immediately for public safety, among other reasons.
For public safety reasons, (among all other reasons we support taking down the Confederate Monuments) @thedrmikejones and I are calling for their immediate removal as other cities across the nation have done. @NBC12 @nedoliver @ByRobertoR @__MarkRobinson
— Stephanie Lynch (@Stephanie4RVA) June 22, 2020
The use of police force follows several nights of peaceful demonstrations at the Robert E. Lee monument. Thousands gathered in Richmond throughout the weekend to celebrate Juneteenth, which commemorates the emancipation of enslaved African Americans, some of whom received news of President Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation in Texas on June 19, 1865.
Captain William “Jody” Blackwell was appointed as interim police chief of RPD on Tuesday following former police chief William Smith’s resignation. Richmond Mayor Levar Stoney requested Smith’s resignation the morning after two consecutive nights of armed police responses to demonstrations at the police headquarters on Grace Street.
Blackwell said during a press conference on Thursday that police would “get the city back.” Sunday was the first night that Richmond Police used pepper spray and tear gas on demonstrators since Blackwell’s appointment.