by State Senator Joe Morrissey (D-16)
I condemn, in the strongest manner possible, the horrific violence that occurred in Richmond this past Saturday, July 25, 2020. Setting fire to a $75,000 city utility vehicle, smashing scores of windows on the VCU campus and destroying the private property of innocent citizens on Monument Avenue and vicinity is despicable. This type of behavior is not legitimate protest. Rather, it is indefensible mayhem that should be prosecuted.
I have always supported the Constitutional right of individuals to assemble and protest – irrespective of the cause or issue. Additionally, government should not chill the right to assemble and protest in any way, shape or fashion. However, when that peaceful protest morphs into rioting, burning, and destruction of personal property, then those responsible have gone too far.
There are two approaches that police and government can use when dealing with protestors. Examples of each -one good and one bad- have been demonstrated in our city during the last six months. The first approach, illustrated by Colonel Anthony S. Pike, Chief of the Capitol Police, occurred on January 6, 2020 when over 22,000 citizens – many of them carrying guns – converged on the State Capitol to protest legislation to restrict guns. Police treated the protestors and rally-goers with the respect to which they were entitled. Colonel Pike and his Capitol Police force told the protestors and rally-goers on Capitol Square that they were free to protest, speak as loudly as they wanted (including the use of bullhorns) and confront Legislators in a dignified fashion. In turn, Colonel Pike promised those protestors that they would also be protected. However, he required they do so peacefully. The result was a calm and peaceful demonstration without bloodshed, violence or destruction of property.
The second and clearly wrong approach to dealing with protestors occurred nearly 8 weeks ago when city police confronted a group of several hundred people at the Lee Circle and promptly at 7:32 pm, inexplicably gassed a crowd of peaceful protestors including mothers and their children, community activists and elderly citizens. The very next day Mayor Stoney apologized and took full responsibility for the police misconduct. However, the damage was done. Since that time, there has been a lack of mutual trust between protestors and the police.
What is worse is the following. In an attempt to glue back together his shattered reputation, Mayor Stoney has made mistake after mistake such as firing one police chief, hiring another police chief who shot an innocent man 18 years ago, and even worse, trying to placate the violent protesters.
Let’s be clear, many of the protesters are peaceful and nonviolent. That is why 2 weeks ago my family, staff and I gathered at Lee Circle, cooked hotdogs and handed out water and food to both police and protestors.
Though peaceful protesters can and should be heard, I have absolutely no regard, respect or patience for those inciters that have imbedded themselves in with the peaceful protestors and have engaged in violence and mayhem. The Mayor has no idea what to do next and has lost the respect of both the citizenry and the peaceful protesters. Sadly, Mayor Stoney does not have the skill set to lead the city during this turbulent time.
I am not running for mayor but here is what I would do. Allow the peaceful protesters to continue to protest as long and as loud as they want. However, with regard to the white supremacists, hate mongers, flame throwers (literally), and property destroyers, the answer is clear. Arrest them, prosecute them, and punish them.
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Joe Morrissey is a Virginia State Senator representing the people of the 16th district.