With the memory of Charlottesville still fresh in everyone's mind, Richmond Police have announced that they’re planning to impose strict security measures – including a temporary “weapons ban” – during a celebration of Confederate Heritage set to take place on Saturday near a famous statue of Robert E Lee on Monument Avenue.
By banning most weapons, a decision that was discussed during a city council meeting earlier in the week, police hope to prevent the level of violence witnessed just 70 miles away in Charlottesville last month, when a young woman was killed and dozens were injured after a white nationalist demonstrator drove his Dodge Charger into a crowd of protesters.
“We do not want what happened in Charlottesville to happen in Richmond,” said Richmond Police Chief Alfred Durham in a letter distributed to residents this week.
According to the Richmond Times-Dispatch, authorities are planning to cordon off a “weapons-free assembly zone” around the statue of Robert E. Lee on Monument Avenue in an effort to head off any potential violence at a rally to support preserving Confederate monuments planned for Saturday. After a crowd of protesters destroyed a statue of Robert E Lee in Charlottesville last month, the city is refusing to allow anyone within a designated perimeter of the statue.
In recent months violent clashes between violent fring groups on both the right and the left have become depressingly regular occurrences at conservative speaking events and rallies. Police at the University of Berkeley tightened security on Thursday during a speech by former Breitbart editor and conservative author Ben Shapiro. While the speech was described as a “success” by organizers, and protests were described as “largely peaceful,” Berkeley police still made nine arrests, three on weapons-related charge, according to Fox.
Richmond police said they’re compiling a list of banned items, including knives, bats, pepper spray, sticks and flagpoles – but, in an ironic twist – they’re hesitant to include guns. Virginia is, after all, an open-carry state, and prohibiting guns, even a temporary ban in a designated safety zone, could present thorny legal issues, according to the Times-Dispatch.
“They are cordoning off the area and making it a specific assembly area where you can’t bring certain items in,” Councilwoman Kim Gray told the Fan District Association board on Tuesday evening. “They’ll be listing items you can’t bring into that area, and weapons will be at the top of the list.”
Police have sought to downplay comparisons with Charlottesville: conveniently, the turnout is expected to be small, though, as the Post-Dispatch reports, nobody knows exactly how many demonstrators to expect on Saturday. The rally is being planned by a neo-Confederate group based in Tennessee called “CSA II: The New Confederate States of America.”
The group is a for-profit business whose primary focus appears to be selling Confederate-themed T-shirts and other paraphernalia, according to the Post-Dispatch. The group is so obscure, apparently, that Virginia’s largest pro-Confederate organization, the Virginia Chapter of the Sons of Confederate Veterans, has advised members not to attend.
“Although authorities acknowledge they’re preparing for the worst, so far they’ve downplayed the parallels between the rally planned for this weekend and the one that took place last month in Charlottesville, which was heavily promoted for months by several large white nationalist organizations.”
“The Richmond rally, in contrast, is being planned by a small, largely unknown Confederate heritage group based out of Tennessee, and so far, only about 50 people have signaled they plan to attend.”
Tara Brandau, a militia supporter who is apparently helping to organize the rally, told reporters at a press conference on the sidewalk along Bank Street in front of the Virginia Capitol on Friday that responses to a Facebook event page is their only gauge of attendance, the Post-Dispatch reported. Though as she admitted, “anybody could show up.”
“It says in the event page 70-something coming, 400 and something interested and there's over 400 shares,” she said. “You can't go by that. Anybody could show up with all the media. I cannot tell you a number.”
According to the Post-Dispatch, no Black Lives Matter counter-protesters – who tend to show up early to these types of events – had yet arrived, though several counterprotests were planned, including an “RVA Stands United Rally and March,” which will begin at the Maggie Walker statue at Adams and Broad streets at a time that has not yet been announced.
The police will also be enforcing temporary parking restrictions will begin at 9 am Friday and end at 11 pm Saturday. No parking signs were posted on Monument Avenue and Macenka said that cars were about to be towed out of the area. They have also set up fencing around the area where the demonstration is set to take place.
Monument Avenue closed as fencing goes up ahead of rally tomorrow pic.twitter.com/kjuLOv2NSs— Ned Oliver (@nedoliver) September 15, 2017
For those traveling through downtown Richmond today, the affected streets are:
- Monument Avenue between North Lombardy Street and North Meadow Street;
- North Allen Avenue between West Grace Street and Park Avenue;
- Westbound West Grace Street between North Allen Avenue and North Lombardy Street; and
- Eastbound West Grace Street between North Allen Avenue and North Meadow Street.