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Politifact VA: Morrissey Asserts False Protest Timeline

Joe Morrissey
State Senator Joe Morrissey ran against Mayor Levar Stoney for the mayoral seat in 2016. (Photo: Craig Carper/VPM News)

CRAIG: State Sen. Joe Morrissey says the vandalism that’s occurred in downtown Richmond during the past four weeks of protest can all be traced back to what he calls weak leadership by Mayor Levar Stoney.

Morrisey, a Democrat, lost to Stoney - also a Democrat - in the 2016 mayoral election.

On June 18, Morrissey appeared on the conservative John Fredericks radio show with Martha Boneta, a Republican strategist.

Boneta said she stayed in a downtown hotel the previous night and heard horns and yelling and fireworks or gunshots that remind her of being on the Gaza Strip. She added: “This morning, we drove through Richmond. I hadn’t been here in quite some time and I was amazed to see just the F-word written everywhere, all the graffiti on the walls, things boarded up.”

And Morrissey said: “This all started two weeks ago when Mayor Stoney’s police gassed - tear gassed - a peaceful crowd of protestors, moms and children, at 7:30 p.m. sharp.”

Morrissey is referring to a June 1 occurrence at the Robert E. Lee statue on Monument Avenue

Warren, you fact-checked Morrissey’s claim that this started all the vandalism and graffiti. Tell us what you found.

WARREN: Well, as anyone who’s witnessed or covered the demonstrations knows, Morrissey is wrong.

The uprisings in Richmond  and across the nation came in protest of the death of George Floyd - a Black man - under the knee of a Minneapolis policeman. That was May 25.

Richmond, like many cities, was calm for a few days.

The first flash point came on the night of May 29 - and carried into the early morning.

In Richmond, a car was set on fire outside police headquarters. A Pulse bus was torched. Windows were shattered in several downtown buildings. 

The Richmond police sprayed a substance at demonstrators. Some of the demonstrators threw things at the police. We should note that most protesters were peaceful.

CRAIG: And this was three days before the Lee statue tear gassing that Morrissey says started it all.

WARREN: Right.

Now on May 30 - two days before the Lee gassing - Richmond protesters set fire to the United Daughters of the Confederacy headquarters on Arthur Ashe Boulevard.

And they sprayed graffiti on the Confederate statues.

A police car and a bunch of dumpsters were set on fire, and some stores on Broad Street were looted.

CRAIG: I remember this because we were covering it.

WARREN: Yeah. It’s on video, there’s photographs and plenty of news stories.

Now, on June 1, several hundred peaceful demonstrators assembled by the Lee statue.

And shortly before the 8 p.m. curfew, Richmond police pulled up and dispersed the crowd with tear gas.

The police department apologized a few hours later, and Stoney did the same the next day to a thousand demonstrators outside City Hall.

And last week, Stoney forced the resignation of Police Chief William Smith.

CRAIG: Now, there’s no doubt that after the Lee tear gassing, the Monument Avenue statues were filled with more graffiti and, of course, a crowd tore down the statue of Jefferson Davis.

WARREN: Yeah. But Morrissey is saying “all” of the protest vandalism and looting started after police tear gassed the peaceful crowd by the Lee statue on June 1.

And he stressed that the police are overseen by Mayor Stoney - a political rival who’s facing reelection this year.

We’re not absolving Stoney from criticism. But the demonstrations may bring historic change to Richmond, and it’s important to keep the record straight.

The defacing of Richmond’s confederate statues began May 30. The monuments were already marked with graffiti when the police sprayed the Lee protesters on June 1.

And buildings had been broken into, windows smashed and small fires were set several days before the Lee statue incident.

So we rate Morrissey’s statement False.