Of­fi­cials: Can’t stop rally onMon­u­ment

Rich­mond po­lice chief says Con­sti­tu­tion pro­tects her­itage group’s right to as­sem­ble

Richmond Times-Dispatch - - FRONT PAGE - BY NED OLIVER

Le­var Stoney, “If you do not re­spect our city, law en­force­ment will lock you up.” Rich­mond mayor

Two ques­tions kept com­ing up Thurs­day ahead of a small rally planned Satur­day by a lit­tle-known Con­fed­er­ate her­itage group that’s gen­er­at­ing sig­nif­i­cant anx­i­ety af­ter last month’s vi­o­lence in Char­lottesville.

Why are po­lice al­low­ing the un­per­mit­ted event to oc­cur in the first place?

And if it must take place, why ban weapons like sticks, bats and knives but not guns?

At a com­mu­nity fo­rum or­ga­nized for res­i­dents by po­lice, Chief Al­fred Durham re­sponded— re­peat­edly — that his

hands are tied on both counts.

The U.S. Con­sti­tu­tion guar­an­tees the right to as­sem­ble, he said, and state law al­lows the open car­ry­ing of firearms— no ex­cep­tions.

“A lot of folks ask: Why is the Rich­mond Po­lice Department al­low­ing folks to protest?” Durham told a crowd of about 300 at First Bap­tist Church on Monument Av­enue. “Ladies and gentle­man, the right to as­sem­ble is a con­sti­tu­tional right. You don’t need a per­mit.”

Re­gard­ing a plan to al­low guns but re-

strict other weapons and pro­tec­tive gear like hel­mets from an “as­sem­bly zone” on Monument Av­enue around the Robert E. Lee statue where the protest is planned, Durham en­cour­aged res­i­dents to ad­vo­cate for a change to state law dur­ing the up­com­ing Gen­eral As­sem­bly ses­sion.

“I feel your pain,” Durham told a woman who had asked what ad­vice he had for coun­ter­protesters who wanted to pro­tect them­selves from be­ing shot. “The same fear you have is the same fear my of­fi­cers have. The only thing I can say is, don’t show up and you don’t have to worry about be­ing shot.”

City vows tough re­sponse

Durham and Mayor Le­var Stoney vowed to re­spond force­fully to any il­le­gal be­hav­ior, mak­ing clear they wouldn’t stand for the kind of street vi­o­lence that played out in Char­lottesville on Aug. 12, when a large gath­er­ing of white na­tion­al­ists clashed with coun­ter­protesters.

“I don’t care whether you live here or you’re com­ing here, but bot­tom line, we ex­pect you to obey the law, be­cause I guar­an­tee you we will en­force it,” Stoney said at a news con­fer­ence ear­lier in the day, backed by dozens of pub­lic safety of­fi­cials from around the re­gion. “And if you do not re­spect our city, law en­force­ment will lock you up.”

Durham stressed that while the city can’t legally bar firearms, weapons laws will be strictly en­forced.

“While the law states and al­lows the open car­ry­ing in pub­lic of firearms, the law does not al­low for the threat­en­ing or men­ac­ing of in­di­vid­u­als who are han­dling such weapons, and if any weapons laws are vi­o­lated, we will be mak­ing ar­rests,” he said.

Durham said of­fi­cers will also be en­forc­ing a state law ban­ning masks. “If some­one has a mask on, we’re not ask­ing them to take it off, they’re be­ing ar­rested.”

Durham said it would be dif- fi­cult for po­lice to keep rally at­ten­dees and coun­ter­protesters sep­a­rate be­cause the event is un­per­mit­ted, which he said meant that plan­ning be­tween the po­lice department and the group is lim­ited, and be­cause it would be im­pos­si­ble for of­fi­cers to di­vine which group each per­son who shows up iden­ti­fies with and ac­cord­ingly as­sign them an area in which to protest.

But Durham said the city would be tak­ing other pre­cau­tions. Among them: re­pur­pos­ing trucks from the Department of Pub­lic Works into makeshift road­blocks to pre­vent the kind of car at­tack that killed Heather Heyer in Char­lottesville.

Ral­ly­ex­pect­ed­tobesmall

In re­sponse to ques­tions from res­i­dents Thurs­day, of­fi­cials con­firmed that they have no rea­son to be­lieve that more than 50 rally at­ten­dees would show up Satur­day.

The event is be­ing planned by a small, Ten­nessee-based group called the New Con­fed­er­ate States of Amer­ica, which pri­mar­ily ap­pears to be fo­cused on sell­ing Con­fed­er­ate mem­o­ra­bilia such as shirts, stick­ers and flags. Their store also car­ries more es­o­teric items, in­clud­ing a large se­lec­tion of cam­ou­flage lin­gerie.

The event is pri­mar­ily be­ing pro­moted on Face­book, as the “Pro­tect the Gen­eral Robert E. Lee Monument Rally.”

Lead­ers of the group shared pho­tos of them­selves Thurs­day on Face­book pos­ing with Con­fed­er­ate flags in front of a Vir­ginia wel­come sign. The shots are cap­tioned “We are here” fol­lowed by the kissy-face emoji. In one im­age, they make a hand sign con­nected with mili­tia groups, and in another they hold their but­tocks in a pose seem­ingly in­tended to in­vite kiss­ing.

In a sep­a­rate Face­book post Thurs­day, they ad­ver­tised a sale on Con­fed­er­ate flags they’ll be of­fer­ing at the rally.

The group has re­peat­edly stressed that it is about “her­itage not hate”; plans to demon­strate peace­fully; and will not tol­er­ate any racism or vi­o­lence at the rally.

Coun­ter­protest size un­clear

Po­lice said in­for­ma­tion about the num­ber of coun­ter­protesters is less clear but that they have seen so­cial me­dia posts in­di­cat­ing mem­bers of some out-of-state groups are mak­ing plans to at­tend.

Black Lives Mat­ter was the only group men­tioned by name, though city of­fi­cials have said their big­gest fear is vi­o­lence by far-left demon­stra­tors who iden­tify as an­tifa, or anti-fas­cist.

Stoney asked res­i­dents to stay away from Monument Av­enue on Satur­day, a mes­sage that was also shared by lead- ers at Vir­ginia Com­mon­wealth Univer­sity and the Univer­sity of Rich­mond.

“For your safety, I strongly en­cour­age all mem­bers of the VCU com­mu­nity to avoid this area Satur­day,” said VCU Pres­i­dent Michael Rao in a state­ment. “There is prece­dence for vi­o­lence at this kind of demon­stra­tion, and your safety is my paramount con­cern.”

Univer­sity of Rich­mond Provost Jef­frey Le­gro and Chief Op­er­at­ing Of­fi­cer Dave Hale sent out a sim­i­lar no­tice to the UR com­mu­nity Thurs­day ad­vis­ing “each mem­ber of our cam­pus com­mu­nity should be aware of the risk of vi­o­lence, de­spite the pres­ence of law en­force­ment of­fi­cers.”

Res­i­dents ques­tion plans

Some res­i­dents made clear Thurs­day that they nonethe­less plan to demon­strate their op­po­si­tion, bristling at Durham’s sug­ges­tion that the only way to stay safe is to stay home.

“A lot of the rea­son why we want to show up is be­cause we know me­dia is go­ing to show and we don’t want their nar­ra­tive to be the only one that gets airplay,” Jameson Price told Durham. “Can you en­cour­age the me­dia to not show up? Can you en­cour­age ev­ery­one to not show up?”

Other res­i­dents re­peat­edly ex­pressed con­fu­sion about why the protest couldn’t be pre­vented al­to­gether.

Durham ac­knowl­edged that assem­blies in streets that im­pede traf­fic could be declared un­law­ful and stopped, but he said the groups will be com­ing to Rich­mond any­way and that the best course of ac­tion is to give them a place to demon­strate peace­fully and avoid leav­ing them to “roam the streets.”

“We cre­ated the as­sem­bly ar­eas. At least we can have some kind of con­trol of peo­ple who go in those ar­eas to as­sem­ble and what they have,” he said.

How­ever, sev­eral res­i­dents ze­roed in on the ban on hel­mets as in­con­gru­ous with the de­ci­sion to al­low guns.

“You say that safety is your pri­mary con­cern, but you’re not al­low­ing peo­ple hel­mets,” said Kris­ten O’Nell. “That re­ally, hon­estly, doesn’t make any sense to me.”

Durham re­sponded that at past protests, at­ten­dees equipped with hel­mets and shields were the ones most likely to en­gage in vi­o­lence.

Frus­tra­tion aside, many at­ten­dees ex­pressed their sup­port for Durham and the ap­proach he out­lined.

“I think they’re do­ing ev­ery­thing they can pos­si­bly do,” said Ashton Lawler, a Monument Av­enue res­i­dent, as he left the meet­ing.

DANIEL SANGJIBMIN/ TIMES- DIS­PATCH

Rich­mond Po­lice Chief Al­fred Durham spoke dur­ing a com­mu­nity meet­ing at First Bap­tist Church in Rich­mond on Thurs­day about Satur­day’s ex­pected demon­stra­tions on Monument Av­enue. About 300 at­tended the­meet­ing.

Durham

JAMES H. WAL­LACE/ TIMES- DIS­PATCH

Rich­mond Mayor Le­var Stoney spoke at the Rich­mond Po­lice Train­ing Acad­emy on Thurs­day about Satur­day’s planned demon­stra­tions on Monument Av­enue.

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