Police arrest 6, use rubber bullets, chemical agents to disperse protesters at Robert E. Lee statue

Protesters wade through smoke on Allen Street near the Robert E. Lee statue, minutes after Richmond Police declared the gathering an "unlawful assembly." Photo by Hannah Eason

Hannah Eason, Managing Editor

Six demonstrators were arrested after police deployed what appeared to be tear gas and explosives at the Robert E. Lee monument on Friday night, following a concert in the grass circle earlier in the evening.

The Richmond Police Department declared the gathering an “unlawful assembly” after 10 p.m. on Friday “due to paintballs being fired at officers,” according to an announcement on Twitter

The Department stated in a tweet Saturday morning that six arrests were made after the gathering was declared unlawful, including a minor who was arrested for unlawful assembly and for firing a paintball gun at officers. The tweet stated that no tear gas was used by RPD. Virginia State Police has not released a statement on tactics used by their officers.

A Monument Avenue resident said witnessing the tear-gassing of protesters was “unreal” and “scary.”

“You don’t feel safe on your front porch or walking down to the monument at night,” said the VCU alumnus who preferred not to disclose his name. “Everybody has the right to protest, peacefully, especially. There’s no problem with them being out here.”

Protesters, some with umbrellas and shields, face police in the traffic circle surrounding the Robert E. Lee memorial. Photo by Andrew Ringle

The 30 year old has lived in Richmond for his entire life and said that before police arrived, most of the crowd was peaceful and some held shields. 

“But there was no reason to pepper spray them and shoot bullets at them at all,” the political science major said. “They were just standing there.”

The Richmond resident witnessed the unveiling of the Arthur Ashe statue on Monument Avenue in 1996, and says witnessing the Black Lives Matter protests is “surreal.”

Charles Willis, an older man who was in a nearby alleyway while police deployed tear gas, said when he protested in the ’70s, it was “just to be included at the table, that was it.” Now, he said, the younger generation is fighting for real change.

“Mine was at the seat, theirs is like ‘we want to see the change,’” said Willis, who is the executive director of local group United Communities Against Crime.

Willis organized a youth march on Saturday morning, which marched from the Children’s Museum of Richmond to the Arthur Ashe Junior Athletic Center. The event included speeches from children and a station for crafting handmade signs. 

“We want them engaged, but we want them to learn,” Willis said of the children who are witnessing the Black Lives Matter movement and the death of George Floyd. 

Before Friday’s sundown, local rapper Trapcry performed on the steps of the Lee monument.

https://twitter.com/trapcry/status/1276706190215569408?s=20

The ACLU of Virginia filed a lawsuit on Friday against the RPD, Virginia State Police and the City of Richmond in response to police using force to disperse a demonstration at City Hall earlier in the week.

The suit alleges that both the city and the combined police response violated the protesters’ constitutional rights to free speech, assembly and protest. The ACLU is seeking a court order to bar police from violating protesters’ constitutional rights.

On Thursday night, demonstrators gathered near the home of Commonwealth’s Attorney Collette McEachin. Fifteen were arrested during the protest near Huguenot Road. 

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