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Richmond Clergy Demand Police End Violent Response To Protests

an imam speaks at the podium in front of a group clergy. a statue to robert e lee is the back drop
Ammar Amonette, an imam at the Islamic Center of Virginia, opened the press conference where dozens of clergy of different faiths spoke out against police violence. (Roberto Roldan/VPM)

Standing on the steps of the now-graffitied Robert E. Lee statue in Richmond, dozens of clergy of different faiths called for an end to police violence Tuesday afternoon. 

They denounced police brutality in all forms, including the use of rubber bullets and chemical irritants against protesters. The use of chemical irritants by Richmond Police and Virginia State Police have become a staple of nightly protests in the city, which have now lasted over a month. 

Pastor Corey Goss said he’s been standing alongside protesters, including the night of June 1 when police admitted to using chemical irritants on a peaceful crowd assembled at the Lee monument.

“We were here just fighting for our rights, and it’s unfortunate that the police tear-gassed and maced us,” he said. 

Goss, who is a youth pastor at Hill City Church, recently brought his youth group to the monument. He said the kids could not understand why, if all people are created equal, their Black brothers and sisters were being discriminated against. 

“There’s going to be times in our life where we don’t know what’s going on, but we do understand pain and we do understand hurt on some level,” Goss said. “So I’m encouraging you today to be like the children.” 

The Richmond Police Department did not respond to repeated requests for comment. 

The group of faith leaders who gathered at the Lee statute on Tuesday is calling themselves Clergy Action RVA. It’s a new interfaith group that is committed to standing with the Black Lives Matter movement. 

Rabbi Michael Knopf with Temple Beth-El described the clergy members as being in a state of moral outrage at the response from police and the passivity of local elected officials. 

“People of faith and people of conscience are right to be outraged,” Knopf said. “Indeed, my faith affirms that in this moment God is outraged: Outraged at having to witness the ongoing destruction and degradation of God’s children. Outraged at the wanton desecration of the divine image, day after day.”

Knopf said members of Clergy Action RVA are committed to attending protests moving forward and offering “spiritual care” to protesters. They also committed to using their voice to help advocate for legislation that ends racial oppression. 

Asked by a reporter to respond to the looting and property destruction that some protesters have participated in, the Rev. Lacette Cross asked for the public to view it in the context of historic violence against Black and brown people. 

“We did not land in this moment, we did not arrive in this space, this statue did not get here by happenstance. Everything that has happened has been coordinated,” Cross said. “As Malcolm X would say, ‘The chickens have come home to roost.’”

The clergy in Richmond are not the only ones outraged at police use of force against protesters. The ACLU of Virginia filed for an emergency injunction against the use of rubber bullets and chemical irritants, although a judge ultimately denied the request.

Shortly after Tuesday’s press conference, the Richmond Times-Dispatch reported that Governor Ralph Northam had extended the state of emergency order over Richmond, citing “civil unrest.” The order includes funding for the state and local response to the protests, including $250,000 for the Department of Military Affairs. 

Editor's Note: The headline was changed for clarity.