Tonight, a combination of VCU police, Richmond police, and VA State police proved that if you go looking for a fight, you will find one. They went looking for a fight.
Virginia Commonwealth University had a basketball game tonight in Houston. Because it was a Final Four game, and because people got a little wild in the streets last weekend when VCU won, it was reported that the police were going to make a big presence in downtown Richmond tonight. It was decided for Copwatch to go to that area to patrol and record the police. What Copwatch discovered was a huge escalation of police presence, compared to last Sunday, which resulted in a sizeable riot.
Copwatch got to the VCU area in time to record a bit of the set up the police had. It was extensive. They were blocking off numerous streets, side streets along Broad. They had a observation tower set up at Floyd and Laurel. They covered lampposts on Broad Street with vaseline. They had riot cops dispersed around the area- in front of the Siegel center, on Cherry Street, all along Broad street. They also had Virginia State Police, who set up their police cars blocking Broad street at the intersection of Broad and Laurel. Their plan seemed to be to force people to Monroe Park.
The police also had numerous large white buses and one red one- that seemed either full of riot cops, or there to hold prisoners. Police had oversize canisters of mace, guns that shot mace pellets, and tear gas can launchers.
VCU lost their game. Instead of people coming screaming into the streets like they did on Sunday, it was a slower move of people. Most had been ready to celebrate and seemed just disappointed.To rally their spirits, people started a chant of VCU, and seemed focused on school spirit in a unifying sort of way.
Instead of allowing people to just hang out in the street and share a public moment, the police decided to attempt to exert control over the situation. It was only when the police began to try and herd people that problems seriously began. Riot cops with horses began forcing people East on Broad street from the Siegel center. Well, East on Broad street was a huge road blockade of State Police at Laurel. So one group of police tried to shove people (hundreds at least of students and others) into another group of police.
There was not any sort of clear or loud announcement of dispersal order or anything else like that. If an announcement was made it was not amplified enough to be effective. Trying to shove and force a large crowd into a bottleneck (the only route out was Laurel and a lot of students were coming the other way up Laurel from the dorms) resulted in a lot of anger and confusion.
We were only present on Broad Street and do not have a solid report of how things went down near Monroe Park.
The police continued to shove people on Broad street. Some people had fireworks, and a few people had set toilet paper on fire. in the street. When the people on the front line didn’t move (because there was a giant crowd in their way) the riot cops (with shields up and helmets on) started to shoot point blank with mace pellets.
One of the most dangerous parts of what happened during the riot were the stampedes caused by the police shooting tear gas and mace unannounced into the crowd. There were no audible warnings about the use of either of these substances. We found out that numerous people began to have serious breathing difficulty and need ambulances as a result of the mace and tear gas. However, because of the many streets blocked by the police, getting medical attention was difficult.
The cops finally shoved the crowd around the corner of Broad and Laurel. By this point many in the crowd were furious. Bottles, bricks, and rocks rained down on the cops from the crowd. When the riot cops could walk their line no further (tactical error in regards to geography on their part) they doused the entire area of Grace and Laurel with multiple canisters of tear gas. The crowd dispersed in all directions, although it seems that the unrest was still not over. Reports of dumpsters on fire on grace street, as well as a large crowd getting tear gassed in Monroe Park continued to come in.
What the Richmond Police, VCU police, and Virginia State Police proved tonight is that if you are looking for a fight you will find one. They went looking, and due to their aggressive set up and behavior, they found one. Hopefully no one is permanently hurt or maimed by the use of “less lethal” weapons tonight in an area full of people, students, homes, dorms, businesses, and restaurants.
Pictures and video of the police will be added tomorrow hopefully. We concentrated on recording the set up positions of the police.