SGA president-elect: Rao statement against violence was ‘precursor’ to Monroe Park arrests

SGA president-elect Taylor Maloney at a protest in Richmond. Photo courtesy of Taylor Maloney

Katharine DeRosa, Staff Writer

Taylor Maloney, president-elect of the Student Government Association at VCU, was arrested for trespassing in Monroe Park while protesting against police brutality. Her arrest came on the heels of an email by VCU President Michael Rao, condemning violent protests that took place the previous night. 

I personally believe what he [Rao] put in that email justified and was the precursor to what happened that night,” Maloney said.

Maloney was one of 17 arrests made by the Richmond Police Department on July 26, the same night dozens of officers in riot gear cleared the park grounds after they closed at sundown. Fewer than 50 people were gathered in the park, and no “unlawful assembly” had been declared by police.

The protest continued east on Broad Street for around three hours, resulting in police declaring an “unlawful assembly” at Broad and Hancock streets after a dumpster fire burned near an apartment building in the area.

The night before the arrest, a demonstration caused damage to VCU property, prompting President Michael Rao to send an email to students, faculty and staff condemning violence. In the email, Rao said the damages done to VCU buildings amounted to more than $100,000. 

We are concerned about groups that promote destruction and violence co-opting important social justice reform movements,” Rao said.

VCU SGA released a statement on July 29 demanding that VCU defund its police department, cut ties with the RPD and work to have charges dropped against protesters. 

“VCU and Richmond have never attempted to enforce nor make clear that Monroe Park closes at 10PM: until protests happened there,” the SGA statement read.

In their statement, SGA condemned Rao’s message and VCU for prioritizing the profit and image of the university over the wellbeing of students and protesters.

“VCU administration emphasizes the importance of student safety and their support for students; however,” the statement read, “it is obvious that profit will always be prioritized before us.”

Maloney said that in continuing to work with the Richmond police, VCU was putting their relationship with the city ahead of their relationship with students.

“Instead of reconciling with us, they chose to crack down with more policing,” Maloney said.

College Republicans at VCU released a statement Monday in solidarity with Rao, stating the group disapproves of the use of violence in protests, does not believe in defunding VCU Police, but strongly supports free speech and protests against police brutality.

“Instead of giving the brave officers less resources and expecting them to improve, we should be giving them more resources and guidance,” the statement read. 

College Republicans’ suggestions included targeting police unions that protect violent officers, having officers participate in de-escalation training and creating more connections between police and social workers and mental health professionals.

“We must not forget that the inclusive space VCU offers all students, especially those like us whose views do not typically align politically with the majority of the student body,” the statement read.

Vice Chair of College Republicans Isaiah Hicks said College Republicans felt as though SGA’s views didn’t accurately represent the entire student body. 

It should also be known that this release wasn’t a jab at SGA. It wasn’t some publicity stunt,” Hicks said. “We know we’re pretty small. It just felt like our voice mattered too.”

Hicks spoke about the diversity of opinions at VCU and within College Republicans. Hicks is Black and said he has gone to at least two protests against police brutality in the last few months. 

“There’s always a peaceable way to do it,” Hicks said.

The RPD’s website states that those arrested on July 26 were trespassing in Monroe Park after 10 p.m. Maloney said she was arrested at the steps of the Cathedral of the Sacred Heart, across Laurel Street from the park. 

Monroe Park is located in the center of VCU’s Monroe Park Campus, in front of Gladding Residence Center. The park is closed from dusk to dawn, meaning people may walk through, but not linger in the park. Six of the 17 people involved in the protest were charged with trespassing, four were charged with rioting.

Charges brought against protesters include:

  • Trespassing
  • Pedestrian in roadway
  • False ID to police to avoid arrest
  • Rioting
  • Rioting with a dangerous weapon
  • Possession of cocaine with the intent to distribute
  • Transporting an assault rifle within city limits
  • Possession of a weapon with an extended magazine
  • Rioting with the possession of a deadly weapon
  • Blocking traffic
  • Driving without a seat belt
  • Drivers license not in possession

VCU Police spokesperson Corey Byers said in an email on July 28 that VCU Police did not make any arrests on Sunday, but that the department assisted Richmond Police in making seven arrests. Byers said VCU Police is “actively pursuing” those who damaged VCU property. 

Despite VCU Police having not arrested anyone, Maloney said she feels as though they’re involved.

“They’re trying to make it seem that VCU Police is hands-off about everything, but they are very much in cooperation with and aiding in the suppression of the right to assembly,” Maloney said.

On July 28, Associate Vice Provost and Dean of Students Reuben Rodriguez sent an email to students with reminders of the health and safety resources on campus. These include the LiveSafe App, which allows students to report tips to VCU Police, emergency phone boxes and university counseling services.

Maloney said that she felt VCU was asking students to be “soft police” in the form of the LiveSafe App. 

“They want other students to aid in the surveillance and policing of student activists and protesters,” Maloney said in a text.

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