Eduardo Acevedo, News Editor
Hannah Eason, Managing Editor
Andrew Ringle, Executive Editor
Correction: An earlier version of this story stated police removed items from inside the statue’s park area. It was the Virginia Department of General Services.
As the sun rose and birds began to chirp on Wednesday, a small group of demonstrators reentered the grassy area around the Robert E. Lee memorial. Many in the group spent the early morning watching Virginia Department of General Services employees remove tables, tents and trash from inside the circle.
Hundreds of protesters gathered at the Lee statue on Tuesday night to protest the Virginia DGS order to close the area overnight. After many protesters dispersed and less than 50 remained, the Richmond Police Department declared the gathering an “unlawful assembly” at 2:40 a.m.
A small group of about 10 protesters stood outside of the cement barricades around 3 a.m. while more than 100 officers occupied the statue’s park area.
Police SUVs and one armored truck blocked the traffic circle at Monument and North Allen avenues, and several white vans and police cars lined the street. Some demonstrators said they were unable to get to their vehicles and residences on the other side of the police line.
“Get an Uber,” one officer replied.
Employees from DGS removed trash, debris and tents left behind by protesters, including one that served as a community library.
DGS spokesperson Dena Potter stated in an email that items will be kept until the end of the week and owners can call 804-786-3311 to retrieve them.
The department posted signs that detailed the order around the Lee statue on Tuesday. The signs stated that tents, tables, video and audio equipment and other items were prohibited.
Dylan Forrest has been driving to Richmond from Newport News, Virginia, almost every day to attend protests honoring George Floyd, a black man who was killed by police in Minneapolis. Forrest, a student at Thomas Nelson Community College, said he thinks police should be held accountable for their use of force against protesters.
“Especially with the tear gas, chemical weapons,” Forrest said, “I mean, come on.”
On Monday night, protesters marched from Monroe Park to Richmond City Hall, which they called “Reclamation Square.” On the city hall steps, they held an overnight sit-in with tents and a movie projector. Organizers gave speeches while members of the crowd pitched tents, laid out blankets and unrolled sleeping bags.
Richmond Police tweeted at 12:42 a.m. on Tuesday that the protesters were unlawfully assembled and needed to disperse immediately, “due to conditions of activity such as sit-ins, sit-downs, blocking traffic, blocking entrances or exits of buildings that impact public safety or infrastructure.”
Minutes later, an officer announced that the assembly was “unlawful” over a bullhorn. Police began deploying flash bangs to disperse the crowd at around 1:00 a.m. with what appeared to be tear gas, pepper spray and pepper balls.
Police delayed tear gas, pepper spray and flash bangs to disperse the crowd in front of city hall. The group was pushed back to the intersection of 8th and Marshall. pic.twitter.com/Cut4SoujEm
— Eduardo Acevedo (@edace2936) June 23, 2020
Organizer Kalia Harris studied the Black Lives Matter movement for three years and said protesters and students are representing their communities during demonstrations.
“The community’s demands are also their demands,” Harris said. “This is a time for us to really come together and it’s time to defund, disarm and abolish the police.”
Police have exited the perimeter, and about a dozen people have re-entered the cement barricades. pic.twitter.com/hwuvLb6YdG
— Hannah Eason (@hannaheason_) June 24, 2020