Mayor Stoney Marched in 5th Night of Protests After Critics Demanded Answers on Police Violence
*This article was written by Craig Carper and Ben Paviour with contributions from Yasmine Jumaa.
Richmond Mayor Levar Stoney joined thousands of demonstrators Tuesday evening as they flooded downtown for the fifth night in a row, protesting the killing of George Floyd.
On Monday, Richmond Police gassed non-violent protesters 20 minutes before the start of the 8 p.m. curfew, outraging city residents. Videos appeared on social media showing police spitting on a detained woman and chasing after a departing crowd with chemical sprays.
At noon on Tuesday, Stoney addressed an angry crowd of thousands at city hall to apologize for the actions of the police department. He was mostly shouted down by protesters, and listened to their aired grievances.
Many residents shouted for Stoney and Police Chief Will Smith’s resignations and called on the mayor to fire officers involved in the attacks on demonstrators.
"I can't stand here today and give you every single answer," Stoney replied. "But what I can do is commit to you that Sunday will never happen again. I will march with you. I will stand with you. I will be with you."
Chief Smith assured protesters that the police response to Tuesday night’s protest would be much calmer.
“When there is nonviolent protest we are going to take no action,” Smith said. “I don’t really care about the curfew if everyone’s being nonviolent.”
At 6 p.m., protesters gathered at the State Capitol and marched to the Lee statue on Monument Avenue, where they chanted “tear it down” and “f--- this statue.”
Mayor Stoney received a mixed reception. He spoke with some protesters while others shouted at him.
One protester, Jevell Bledsoe, held a sign reading, “I’m Black, I’m angry,” an emotion he returned to repeatedly in an interview.
“I think its a PR stunt,” Bledsoe said. “If he wants to walk with us, fine, but this is our protest.”
Several protesters, including 31-year-old Rod Taylor, gave Stoney credit for showing up.
“I do feel like he’s genuine,” Taylor said. “He’s an African American man, so I know he knows the frustration. But we would like to see a little bit more.”
Speaking to reporters, the mayor said police will conduct an internal review of the attacks on demonstrators Monday. He addressed criticism that he should act more quickly.
“I’m not a king, I’m not a dictator, I can’t just say, ‘Boom -- it happens that way.’” Stoney said. “It doesn’t work that way. And I understand why they’re upset about that, because they want something to work for them today.”
In an interview with VPM, Stoney also addressed a top demand from activists: a civilian review board completely independent from the police department. Stoney said he was open to the idea but stopped short of endorsing it.
“We gotta see how it looks,” Stoney said. “We’ve got to see if it fits the city of Richmond.”
As Stoney tried to make his exit shortly after 7 p.m., protesters chanted, “cancel the curfew”.
The event included many more politicians than past rallies, with Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax, Sen. Jennifer McClellan (D-Richmond) and Sen. Ghazala Hashmi (D-Henrico) all making appearances. Fairfax, McClellan, and Stoney are all seen as possible contenders for governor in 2021.
As curfew approached 8pm, roughly half the protesters left while half stayed, ready to violate the curfew, including Fairfax.
“It’s 8 o’clock and I’m not going anywhere,” Fairfax said to cheers, snubbing a curfew set via executive order by Gov. Ralph Northam.
After 8 the mood was energetic but peaceful, with a lighter police presence than the previous evenings. Protesters circled up Broad Street and back down Monument Avenue to the Capitol, where the event started.
The protest mostly dispersed by 11 pm.