I was present tonight around Jackson Ward with the intent to observe police activity in the area. Given the marked police aggression at prior months’ First Fridays events, and our observation of August’s in particular, we anticipated more unwarranted aggressive conduct from the Richmond Police Department, despite this month’s event being officially canceled. I arrived with Y at roughly 6pm, and met up with Z. We organized our Know-Your-Rights literature to hand out to passers-by, got our cameras ready, and set out down the street.
The first thing we ran into was the RPD’s Mobile Command Center, which was parked on Broad Street and then moved behind the Hess Station at Broad and Belvidere, along with a few police vans. We then came to observe roughly 50+ officers posted in the area, mostly in groups of 3-10, standing at intersections and bus stops waiting around. They were all suited up with bulletproof vests, some with tactical/crowd control gear. There were also several squad cars on the street, their respective officers engaged with the task of towing cars not compliant with the temporary parking restrictions imposed for the night. These restrictions had also been imposed at August’s First Fridays event, and everyone present witnessed the entirety of Broad Street cleared between Belvidere and Adams St. Again, tonight we saw at least four tow trucks diligently moving vehicles.
We began filming some groups of officers, just simply observing what they might be doing en masse without any particular occasion. The most common reactions were jeering and mocking remarks. With no incident at hand, and limited tape and battery, we directed our attention towards distributing literature to some of the folks walking down the street, visiting the galleries, or waiting for the bus, sometimes engaging in brief dialogue, the topic of conversation centered mostly around the absurd police presence or experienced harrasment by law enforcement. Regardless of the brevity of each encounter, the information was greeted warmly- ”I need this”; “Thank you so much”; “I wish I had this before..”
We navigated a perimeter the breadth of Marshall Street to Grace Street, and the length of Belvidere to 2nd Street, covering everywhere in between. We could not go more than a block without running into at least one pair of cops, if not a drove, or mounted officers. Only one or two groups did we ever observe actually moving, the rest all more or less stationary or centered around a post. Two senior officers were eventually assigned to direct traffic at one intersection.
We came upon one officer engaging some people in a car pulled to the side, and began to record. I was positioned about 8 ft away from the scene, Y and Z filming from further back. After a few minutes, I noticed Commander Mike Snawder walking away from a detail of 4 cops across the street from us, while two officers from that post made a bee-line across the street directly towards me. One of the two officers, who had previously harassed me and attempted to prevent my observation in August, came within inches of me and directed me to “keep moving.” We backed up at a moderate pace, continuing to film from all angles the actions of these two officers. After several yards, the forward officer began to kick my feet as he walked into me, commanding “Don’t touch me!” He continued to walk into me several times repeating this same behavior, until I quickened my pace substantially. Throughout this engagement I asked the officer if there was an incident, and why he was following me: he declined to answer the first question, and then stated that he was not following us but simply patrolling and doing his job. They finally relented after pushing us two blocks and forcing us to round a corner. After this incident, the particularly aggressive officer threatened to detain us if he saw us stationary on the sidewalk. Any time we were around him, he would begin to approach us as if to repeat his tactic.
Brushing aside this intense interaction, we pressed on to distribute the rest of our literature. Police presence was slightly heavier than before, some police motorcycles having rolled in, a state trooper visiting each post and chewing the fat with the officers who continued to stand or sit in one place. All five mounts were out, sitting in a parking lot, waiting for a call. The sun had now set, and after a short couple rounds we ran out of paper. Making our way back up Broad towards our bikes, we encountered Commander Mike Snawder, and proceeded to film and ask him a few questions about the police action of the night. His answers were muddled, and he was extremely deflective and diversionary when it came to any detail. The encounter lasted roughly 5 minutes, before the commander realized Jedi mind tricks don’t work on us and he couldn’t warp the conversation to his favor.
Despite three commanders’ presence at the time, it seemed that some of the grunts were packing up. Hungry and with the night still young, we resolved to part ways for a bit of repose. Z and myself put all of the cameras in Y’s bag, and Z left. Y and I walked up a block and a half to New York Pizza and Subs, where our bikes were locked to a street sign. As we were unlocking the bikes, a swarm of officers surrounded us, two of them grabbing Y by the backpack and detaining them, another three pushing me off the sidewalk into the parking lot of the restaurant. As I scrambled to film this with my camera phone, several officers diligently blocked my view. As I moved back and forth trying to get an angle, they began to question me on my business on the property, and urged me off the premises. I continued filming as they moved Y into an alleyway behind the restaurant, and attempted to follow, but was blocked by several cops and a particular plainclothes authority who threatened that if I approached any further I would be charged with obstruction of justice. At that point, I called for support.
A and B met up with me and we walked back to the area where I was last stopped, to once again engage with Snawder. He claimed that we could not walk down the block because we would obstruct justice, insomuch as we might distract the officers from their duty by walking by, and thus impede their ability to serve justice to Y. After going back and forth with Snawder, pointing out that various people were passing through the scene, and so B determined to pass their “line” and walked down Henry. They tailed B closely, but made no moves. A and I circled around to the other side of the alley and saw the VCU wagon doors closing on Y. We caught B on the other side of Henry, after the wagon had left and all but Snawder departed, we briefly argued with him again before our friend G found us.