Black liberation protesters in Richmond narrowly avoid conflict on Election Night
RICHMOND-Local Black Lives Matter protesters wanted to take a stand Tuesday night. Earlier in the day, a notice circulated on social media, telling people there would be a “Trump Train” arriving at 6 p.m. Protesters organized in opposition, making it clear an incident like the one Sunday wouldn’t be ignored.
That incident led to an attempted shooting of one protester, at least one more being pepper sprayed and some minor injuries as people dove out of the way of the vehicles. Tuesday, protesters said, would be different. And in some ways, it was.
This time, the “train” of vehicles more closely resembled a smart car. Compared to the estimated 50 vehicles that participated in the last “Trump Train,” only an estimated 15 made it this time. Richmond City Council candidate Mike Dickinson, who lost Tuesday’s election, organized the first two parades. He said his campaign was not responsible for organizing the event on Election Night. Dickinson also put out a statement on social media, asking his supporters not to take part in it.
Protesters met at Marcus David Peters Circle, where their numbers easily doubled those of the car parade. Representatives from both the BLM RVA and BLM757 groups took part. BLM757 was recently disavowed by several Richmond black liberation organizers due to their collaboration with the far-right Bugalloo Boys during a protest last July.
“We can burn this city down but we’re trying to be different,” said BLM RVA member Bear Jones. “The most we do, probably, is just walk the street. Just so we can be heard.”
Despite the fact protesters and the “Trump Train” both traveled the streets of Richmond that night, there was no violence or even physical interaction between the two groups.
“We’re out here celebrating. [We’re] out here celebrating democracy, celebrating America, celebrating everything our ancestors fought for. We’re just out here to celebrate, whatever happens today,” said BLM757 member Japhari Jones.
Close calls on Election Night
Though no protesters were hurt or arrested on Election Night, there were two very close calls.
Around 7:30 that night, protesters demonstrating at the Circle started marching down Broad St. towards City Hall. They quickly changed the route, however, when a pickup truck leading the march spotted the tail end of the “Trump Train” driving down Belvidere St. The pickup truck pursued the white supremicist car parade, which turned onto Main St. next to Monroe Park.
According to witnesses, members of the “Trump Train” had visible weapons on hand as they drove up the main road. Law enforcement allowed the parades’ vehicles to pass by them, but when the pickup truck full of black liberation protesters also carrying weapons drove by, they were pulled over by Richmond county police officers.
“I get it, they have guns. But so did everyone else. So did the rest of them,” said protester Gavin Attway.
Several witnesses on the truck said police drew their weapons and pointed them at protesters as they approached the pickup truck.
“At first it was two of them, but by the time we were sitting on the block, it was like 12, 13 cop cars. So they pulled us, and they came with their guns drawn,” Jones said.
At least a dozen police cars and twice as many officers descended upon the scene within seconds. According to witnesses, protesters put their hands in the air and explained that they were armed but had no intention of using their weapons.
A pick and choose gun ban?
Richmond City Council made it illegal in September to possess or carry a firearm on public property, on public streets, during a permitted event, and during an event that would require a permit, such as an impromptu protest.
However, this ban has been loosely enforced since its creation. For example, when previous “Trump Trains” rolled through Richmond, they also displayed and carried firearms but were not cited or stopped by police.
Law enforcement told about 10 people sitting in the bed of the pickup truck to exit the vehicle and sit on the pavement. The police ran I.D.s checks for all of them, but in the end no one was arrested. The driver of the vehicle received a traffic ticket for driving with people in the rear of his truck.
Protesters questioned why police moved in on them and not the Trump supporters, who also had weapons.
“Unless they think violence is going to happen, (law enforcement) shouldn’t be moving in. But obviously, I don’t think anything’s going to happen unless other counter-protesters instigate it. The Trump people,” said Attaway.
Afterwards., the protest resumed its march to City Hall. Protesters were followed as usual by a small group of sympathetic car drivers who blocked the roadway behind them to keep marchers safe.
However, a few blocks after they crossed Belvidere St., a red sedan that protesters assumed was there to support them suddenly swerved into a lane occupied by marchers. Several people had to scramble out of the way to avoid being hit as the car sped off at full speed down the roadway. No one was hurt but a few people were shaken. The driver of the vehicle could be heard screaming obscenities as they drove away.
‘This is the start’
Protesters eventually found themselves at their destination, where organizers spoke about the importance of coming together as a community. There they peacefully demonstrated and chanted messages like “If you’re awake, you’re a threat” and “No justice, no peace.”
Exhausted but miraculously unscathed, protesters wrapped up the night back where they started at the Circle. By the time they arrived, demonstrators were already talking about what time they’ll be back tomorrow to protest or celebrate the results of the election.
“We’re here to kick off the revolution, because this country is not going to be the same once these elections come in. This country won’t be the same, so this is the start of our revolution and we’ll be the face of it,” Jones said.