Tuesday morning update, 7:45 a.m.: The Richmond Police Department declared demonstrators' encampment at City Hall an unlawful assembly at 12:42 A.M. Tuesday morning.
The unlawful assembly was declared due to "conditions of activity such as sit-ins, sit-downs, blocking traffic, blocking entrances or exits of buildings that impact public safety or infrastructure," according to a Twitter post from the Richmond Police.
Virginia State Police moved in on the encampment — dubbed "Reclamation Square" demonstrators — shortly before the announcement, according to a reporter from The Commonwealth Times. There, officers reportedly deployed various chemical irritants, flash bangs and rubber bullets to disperse demonstrators, who had begun their sit-in six hours prior.
The dispersal of protesters at City Hall comes roughly seven hours after the Department of General Services announced an ordinance prohibiting demonstrators from gathering at the Robert E. Lee monument between sunset and sunrise.
The crowd at the Lee monument thinned out by 11 p.m. Monday night, as there were less than two dozen people at the statue when a Richmond Times-Dispatch reporter drove by.
On the 25th consecutive day of demonstrations in Richmond, a group of about 100 protesters set up an encampment outside Richmond City Hall on Monday evening.
Dubbed “Reclamation Square,” according to a banner and pamphlets handed out to the crowd, the protesters at the encampment demanded police reforms from city leaders.
Before 7 p.m., eight tents had been set up on East Marshall between North Ninth and North 10th streets. Bikes and cars encircled the gathering.
“Our guiding principle is, ‘Black liberation by any means necessary,’ ” the pamphlet read.
A few miles west, another group of protesters gathered as they have for weeks around the city’s Robert E. Lee monument, which has become a makeshift gathering place for protesters in Richmond.
State and city officials on Monday afternoon issued an order banning gatherings on the grounds from sunset to sunrise, citing safety.
Protesters defied that order. As of press time, law enforcement officials had begun to surround the area but had not moved to remove the crowd of more than 150 people.
The Lee statue has served as the epicenter of the city’s activism this month, drawing hundreds on a near-daily basis.
Protesters have gathered there. Block parties with music and food have been held. People from across the state have gone to observe the statue and its graffiti. A sign unofficially renamed the location as “Marcus-David Peters Circle” after the high school teacher killed by a Richmond police officer in 2018.
As sunset approached, Beth Almore, a local teacher, snapped photos of the makeshift memorials to document them, fearing they would be removed and discarded if police overtook the circle.
“I was concerned about that,” said Almore, adding that she hopes they will be preserved by the Virginia Museum of History and Culture.
“This is an interesting moment in the history of Richmond and it needs to be documented. As an African American woman ... the artwork for me is healing an ulcer. I felt for the first time I could breathe when I passed this statue.”
Monday’s gathering, which began at Monroe Park near VCU’s downtown campus, marked the 25th night of demonstrations against police brutality and systemic racism in Richmond.
As two protests unfolded in Richmond, 14 advocacy groups sought to cement the demands of demonstrators.
In a letter shared on social media, a group representing more than a dozen separate community organizations issued a “solidarity statement from the Richmond Uprising” and, in it, seven clear demands.
The demands included reopening the Marcus-David Peters case; defunding the Richmond Police Department; dropping charges against arrested protesters; removing Confederate monuments; establishing a civilian review board with subpoena power to investigate police misconduct; and releasing the names of Richmond police officers under investigation for excessive use of force.
The overnight closures at the Lee monument are in place indefinitely, according to a news release from the Virginia Department of General Services, the Capitol Police, the Virginia State Police and the Richmond Police Department.
The agencies said that while peaceful events have been held on the grounds, “concerns are mounting for the safety of those in attendance” at the events and “for those living and working within the immediate area, especially at night.”
The area will reopen each day at sunrise, according to the news release, which also outlined regulations for people visiting the monument. Those rules, which became part of state code in 2019, include no vehicles, no climbing on the statue or its steps, and a maximum occupancy of 500 people.
The agencies also barred additional banners, flags, posters or other objects placed on or affixed to the statue. Events that are expected to have 10 or more people also require a permit.
The news release said the substantial increase in people visiting the monument and “intermittent blockages to vehicular traffic within the intersection pose serious safety risks.” The agencies said there has been vandalism, trespassing on private properties on Monument Avenue, littering, public urination and excessive noise.
“As a result of increasing public safety risks and numerous legal violations, state and local law enforcement will be enforcing state laws, city ordinances and the regulations for use of the Lee Monument property,” the agencies said. “These steps are necessary to provide a safe and secure area for individuals who want to express their First Amendment rights peacefully, as well as general visitors to the site, City of Richmond residents and property owners.”
Gov. Ralph Northam ordered the Lee statue, which is state-owned, taken down June 4 after mass calls from demonstrators to rid Richmond, the former capital of the Confederacy, of its Confederate symbols.
The Richmond City Council has said it will take down the four statues on city property once a new state law takes effect.
Northam’s decision led to three lawsuits being filed objecting to the monument’s removal. A complaint filed by a descendant of the people who signed the land over to the state argues that under the terms of the 1890 agreement and a legislature-approved resolution, the state is supposed to consider the monument and the area around it “perpetually sacred” and “faithfully guard it and affectionately protect it.”
A Richmond judge issued a 10-day injunction barring the statue’s removal on June 8 and extended that injunction last week. Another hearing is scheduled for July 23.
Even with the removal plans put on pause, the statue has continued to serve as the hub for protests.
The scene has been peaceful at the monument, with pictures being taken on its pedestal, a basketball hoop set up for pickup games, and protesters installing a wheelchair-accessible ramp over the weekend. The state put up temporary concrete barriers last week as well, saying they would protect protesters.
Police did arrest an off-duty Richmond International Airport Police Department officer on Saturday, charging him with trespassing in a building overlooking the Lee monument.
This isn’t the first time gatherings at the statue, the largest in the city, have been banned.
Following the white nationalist violence in Charlottesville in August 2017, then-Gov. Terry McAuliffe temporarily barred gatherings at the Lee statue on Monument Avenue. He then imposed emergency regulations in November 2017, which became permanent last year.
Those rules — no vehicles, a cap on the number of people gathered and the overnight closures, among others — are the ones state and local officials are now citing.