George Floyd protests in Richmond, Virginia
|George Floyd protests in Richmond, Virginia|
|Part of George Floyd protests in Virginia|
|Date||May 29, 2020– August 16, 2020|
Richmond, Virginia, United States
|Parties to the civil conflict|
|Injuries||At least 25|
Richmond, Virginia, experienced a series of protests in the wake of the killing of George Floyd. Richmond was the first city in the Southeastern United States to see rioting over Floyd's death. Richmond, formerly the capital of the short-lived Confederate States of America, saw much arson and vandalism to monuments connected with that polity, particularly along Monument Avenue.
Protests began in late May 2020 and by mid-August 2020 had gradually subsided. Given the city's Confederate roots, many of the areas of attack by protesters were the statues along Monument Avenue, near The Fan neighborhood of Richmond. During the first wave of Floyd protests, all major monuments (except the Arthur Ashe Monunent) were defaced and sprayed with graffiti. Five statues were toppled by protesters. Some of the statues toppled included the Jefferson Davis Memorial, to the Confederacy's first and only president. Additionally, statues of Christopher Columbus and Confederate General Williams Carter Wickham were toppled. Additionally, the Howitzer Monument and the Sons of Virginia statue, were toppled by protesters.
On May 25, 2020, George Floyd, a 46-year-old black man, was killed in Minneapolis, Minnesota, during an arrest for allegedly using a counterfeit bill. Floyd was apprehended by Derek Chauvin, a white police officer (since fired) who knelt on Floyd's neck for almost nine minutes while Floyd was handcuffed. While Chauvin knelt on Floyd's neck, Floyd was begging for his life and repeatedly saying "I can't breathe". Chauvin was on patrol with three other Minneapolis Police officers: J. Alexander Kueng, Thomas Lane, Tou Thao. Kueng, Lane, and Thao further restrained Floyd, while also preventing bystanders from intervening on the arrest.:6:24 During the final three minutes Floyd was motionless and had no pulse while Chauvin ignored onlookers' pleas to remove his knee, which he did not do until medics told him to.:7:30
The next day, May 26, when videos made by witnesses and security cameras became public, all four officers were fired. Two autopsies found Floyd's death to be a homicide. Initially, Chauvin was charged with third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter, to which was later added second-degree murder by Minnesota Attorney General, Keith Ellison; the three other officers were charged with aiding and abetting second-degree murder.
Floyd's death triggered demonstrations and protests in many U.S. cities and around the world against police brutality, income inequality, capitalism, institutional racism, and lack of police accountability. Protests reached the Richmond area about three days after Floyd's killing.
The first organized protest in the city began on the evening of May 29 and went on into the early morning hours of May 30. Protesters organized at Monroe Park and marched down Franklin Street through the Monroe Ward neighborhood. There, they were confronted by the Richmond Police Department (RPD), VCU Police, and the Virginia Division of Capitol Police. Protesters set two police cruisers on fire, both of which were destroyed: one VCU cruiser and one RPD cruiser. Additionally, protesters vandalized a GRTC Pulse rapid transit bus and set it on fire, destroying it.
On the evening of May 30 into the early morning hours of May 31, several hundred protesters organized around the campus of Virginia Commonwealth University and marched down Monument Avenue. The street is well known as being the home of several prominent statues depicting Confederate generals in a positive and honorable light. These statues have, especially in recent years, been subject to vandalism, even prior to the Floyd protests. The first statue defaced was the J.E.B. Stuart Monument located at the intersection of Lombardy Street and Monument Ave. Protesters spray painted the statue and destroyed the fencing around the statue. Subsequently, protesters tagged the Robert E. Lee Monument with various slogans, including "Black Lives Matter", "Lynch Trump", "All Cops Are Bastards", and "Fuck Capitalism". The Jefferson Davis Memorial, and the Stonewall Jackson Monument were also damaged, although none of the statues were toppled.
The interior of the Memorial to the Women of the Confederacy was set on fire. Initially, the Richmond Fire Department reported that just the exterior was damaged. Later on it was noted that the building's interior caught fire, destroying artifacts within the building.
Protesters also defaced the sign for the Virginia Museum of History and Culture to re-read "Virginia Museum of Bullshit and Cultists". The Rumors of War statue by the Museum was left unharmed. Damage was also reported at the Whole Foods Market near the Allison Street transit station.
Protests went on until 3 or 4:00 a.m. on the morning of May 31. Numerous community members reorganized around the Lee Monument around 10:00 a.m. the next morning, with smaller groups organizing around the Stuart, Jackson, and Davis monuments. The statues along Monument Avenue were further defaced and spray painted. Skateboarders skated on the JEB Stuart monument.
Despite the city-wide curfew, protests continued into the early morning hours of June 1. Approximately 100 to 200 protesters were arrested. Police reports indicated that there was less damage sustained than previous nights. It was reported that several dumpsters, cars, and additional buildings were set on fire.
Throughout the day there were small gatherings of peaceful protests around the Lee and Stuart monuments. Around 5:30 to 6:00 p.m., several hundred protesters gathered near the city's Central Office District blocking streets. Around 7:20 p.m., about forty minutes prior to curfew, Richmond police tear gassed a group of about 500 or 600 protestors that had gathered near the Stuart and Lee monuments. At the time of the tear gassing, the protesters were peaceful and kneeling, while chanting "Why are we here? LOVE!". Conversely, drone footage showed the police standing in a diamond formation, with two officers in the center who threw or fired the first tear gas canisters. This posture and formation of officers indicated that this was a premeditated action, and not a response to being separated from their group as initially tweeted by the police department. Later, the Police Department tweeted that protesters were attempting to topple the statues. Following the tear gassing, the Police issued an apology for tear gassing peaceful protesters, although it was met with harsh criticism.
On the morning of June 2, mayor Stoney addressed the press and citizens at Richmond City Hall regarding the police actions on civilians on June 1. He publicly apologized for the actions of the Police department. Citizens called on Stoney to fire and arrest the police officers involved in the tear gassing, some calling on Stoney to resign as mayor. Stoney joined protesters in their June 2 march as part of a promise to listen to the concerns and demands of protesters.
Following the news of the statue removal, protests continued throughout the city, although they were largely peaceful. A vigil for Breonna Taylor was held at Maymont Park on June 7, in celebration of what would have been her 27th birthday. Since June 3 an open plaza has been set up on the grounds of the Lee Monument to serve as a DIY cultural center.
Also on June 2, a group of officers were filmed as one of them appeared to repeatedly spit at a woman in handcuffs.
On the night of June 6, protesters toppled a statue of Williams Carter Wickham, a Confederate general, located in Monroe Park. The statue was erected in 1891, and descendents of Wickham had previous urged to remove the statue as early as 2017.
Three days later, on the night of June 9, protesters went to the Christopher Columbus statue in Byrd Park, set it on fire, toppled the statue, and threw the statue into Fountain Lake on the Byrd Park grounds, making it the second toppled statue in a week in the city. The following evening, on June 10 around 11:00 p.m. local time, protesters tore down the Jefferson Davis statue on Monument Avenue, making it the third statue toppled in the city.
On Saturday, June 13, a march was held on Monument Avenue called the "5,000 Man March." Following this incident, Mayor Stoney asked the Commonwealth's Attorney for the City of Richmond, to investigate the incident. The RPD also announced their own internal investigation.
During the early morning hours of June 15, a peaceful protest was held outside of the Richmond Police Headquarters in protest of police brutality exhibited by the Police over the last two weeks. Police shot protesters with non-lethal bullets and tear gas. The next day, June 16, Chief William Smith of the Richmond Police resigned at the request of Stoney.
On June 17, a fourth statue was toppled in Richmond, and the third Confederate-related statue. The statue, the Confederate Howitzer Statue, was located on the Monroe Park campus of Virginia Commonwealth University, and was unveiled in 1892. The Howitzer Statue celebrated a Confederate artillery unit. On June 19, various Juneteenth celebrations were held across the region. Around this time, a sign was placed by the Lee Monument proclaiming the area as "Marcus-David Peters Circle", honoring the late Peters, who died while in custody of Richmond Police. On June 20, in the nearby The Fan neighborhood of Richmond, protesters tore down the First Virginia Regiment Monument, which was a statue honoring Revolutionary War veterans.
On June 22, protesters rallied outside of Richmond City Hall during a City Council meeting. There, protesters spoke to City Council demanding the abolition of Richmond City Police, the creation of a Citizens Review Board with subpoena power, and a "Marcus Alert System", which would send trained social workers to a mental health crisis instead of police. That evening, protesters rallied out of the Richmond City Police Headquarters in protest of police brutality. Protesters were attacked by City Police with rubber bullets, tear gas and pepper spray.
On June 26, interim Police Chief, Jody Blackwell, stepped down as Police Chief. The same day Levar Stoney announced Deputy Chief Gerald Smith of the Charlotte-Mecklenburg County Police Department as the new Chief of Richmond Police. Smith would begin duties on July 1.
On July 1, construction crews removed the Stonewall Jackson Statue at the corner of Arthur Ashe Boulevard and Monument Avenue, making it the first statue the city government had removed. On July 2, unofficial historical markers, in the same style as the Virginia Historical Society signs were placed near the Stuart and Lee statues, contextualizing the motive of the status being erected. On July 7, construction crews removed the J.E.B. Stuart Statue at the corner of Monument Avenue and Lombardy Street, making it the second statue the city government had removed.
On July 25, a dump truck was set on fire during a Solidarity with Portland protest in south Richmond. An unlawful assembly was declared at 11 pm but later Mayor Levar Stoney and Police Chief Gerald Smith jointly announced that white supremacists had been "marching under the banner of Black Lives Matter, an attempt to undermine an otherwise overwhelmingly peaceful movement ."
Throughout August, more efforts were made by the Richmond Police Department and the mayor's office to quell the ongoing protests, which had been occurring for nearly two months. On August 7, the Police Department actively disassembled camping area around the Lee Monument site following a chain of complaints from nearby residents. On August 11, the unofficial historic markers were removed by city officials, and active efforts went underway to prohibit overnight camping on the site.
On August 13, the ongoing protests coincided with student activist groups at nearby Virginia Commonwealth University to defund and abolish the VCU Police Department. Demands included release the department's line-item budget for the last five fiscal years, the university to sever ties with the Richmond Police Department, to redirect all police monies to mental health services, and to actively ban the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) from entering the campus.
On August 16, the sign marking the name "Marcus-David Peters Circle" was removed, although the Richmond Police claimed they had no responsibility. Since the sign removal and clearing of the Lee Monument area, the protests focusing on George Floyd have largely receded.
On May 31, Mayor Levar Stoney issued a city-wide curfew from 8:00 p.m. until 6:00 a.m. for non-essential workers in the wake of the ongoing protests. The curfew went into effect on May 31 and is to be lifted on June 3. Additionally, Virginia governor Ralph Northam issued a state of emergency.
Several statewide politicians condemned the use of the Richmond Police using tear gas on civilians including Jennifer McClellan, Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring. A majority of members of Richmond City Council express support for there to be a Citizen's Review Board and Mental Health Alert service for the Richmond Police Department.
On June 3, Stoney announced his intention to introduce an ordinance to remove the Confederate statues on Monument Avenue. It was announced on June 4, that Governor Ralph Northam will announce plans to remove the Lee monument. That same day a press conference attended by Northam and Stoney confirmed the removal of the monument. Speaking of the removal, Northam said "You see, in Virginia, we no longer preach a false version of history. One that pretends the Civil War was about ‘state rights’ and not the evils of slavery. No one believes that any longer".
On June 5, all nine members of the Richmond City Council backed the removal of all five Confederate monuments in the city limits. Reva Trammell, who represents the 8th district in the city stated that "while many citizens support putting the Confederate statues in a museum, some oppose it. After giving this much thought, I will vote to take them down. I feel it is the right thing to do. I never thought I would live to see the kind of damage and destruction that has been inflicted on Richmond, and we need to end this now."
On June 16, Virginia Governor Ralph Northam said he did not support the protesters demands to defund state police, and offered additional reforms instead.
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- @TreySongz (June 22, 2020). "Aye @LevarStoney I see you appointed William V Blackwell as the new Chief of Police KNOWING he shot Jeramy Gilliam IN HIS BACK murdering him in July 2002. Says a gun was pulled on him and he feared for his life although the gun was found 35 ft away (the next day) no prints" (Tweet) – via Twitter.