The Virginia Defenders for Freedom, Justice & Equality are calling for broad, united support for all protesters arrested during the current anti-racist Rebellion, all those targeted for right-wing doxing and all those being harassed by elected officials for their roles in the Rebellion.
Richmond has now seen nearly two months of daily protests against the police murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis, abuse by local police departments across the country, our own city’s many symbols of white supremacy and racism in general.
This (for Richmond) unprecedented wave of actions of all kinds has deeply changed the political balance of power in the city. A mayor who first refused to allow his Monument Avenue Commission to even consider taking down the Confederate statues on Monument Avenue wound up issuing an emergency order to take down all four city-owned statues there, as well as many other Confederate-honoring symbols.
The mayor and a rapidly-changing series of police chiefs have endorsed the demands of the family and supporters of police-shooting victim Marcus-David Peters for a Marcus Alert system to address situations of people experiencing mental health crises, and a Civilian Review Board with subpoena power. Richmond’s Commonwealth’s Attorney has - very belatedly - agreed to begin releasing the names of police officers indicted for abuse. There is at least the beginning of the discussion about transferring funds from policing to community needs. These are just some of the changes that are the result of the “civil unrest” that has swept Richmond, our region and the entire country. And remember, all this has been taking place during the worst health crisis since the 1918 influenza pandemic.
But this struggle is far from over. A city with a pre-coronavirus poverty rate of 21.9 percent has been hit hard by layoffs, business closings and a national response to the pandemic that can only be described as criminal. A tsunami of evictions is about to break over Richmond, already the city with the second-highest rate of evictions in the entire country. Richmond homelessness, which grew by 10 percent in 2019, is sure to accelerate. Job prospects for recent high school and university graduates, not to mention high school drop-outs, look particularly grim. And, as always, these challenges are hitting the Black, immigrant and other communities of color the hardest. We need more protests, more demands, more struggles - not the “leveling off” hoped for by elected officials.
And, most pressingly, we need a broad united front of support for the 250-300 people who have been arrested in the course of the local protests. Hundreds were “kettled” on the third night of the Rebellion and forced to spend the night sitting handcuffed in buses before being brought before magistrates to be charged with violating the state-imposed curfew, while Richmond’s sheriff prevented them from meeting with the lawyers who were waiting outside the jail.
Others arrested include Michaela Hatton, a 22-year-old graduate from the Virginia Commonwealth University School of Social Work, charged with assault on a police officer after she was grabbed by a cop during a protest outside police headquarters and held as a virtual hostage while the police demanded that the legal protest disperse. She is now facing up to 15 years in prison
Omari Al-Qadaffi, a well-known and well-respected housing rights organizer, was taken down by five sheriff’s deputies after an anti-eviction rally as he attempted to enter the John Marshall Courts Building to be present at the resumption of eviction hearings after a months-long state moratorium had been lifted. Charged with two counts of felony assault on law enforcement officers, obstruction of justice and trespass, he now faces many years behind bars. Both Michaela and Omari are African-American. Many other protesters are also facing serious charges.
Thanks to the work of the Richmond Community Bail Fund and a consortium of volunteer attorneys, most of those arrested had bail and legal support. And many organizations have joined the call for Amnesty for all those arrested during the protests. This call and this support needs to be strongly amplified as we stand shoulder-to-shoulder in support of all our comrades facing charges.
There is also the growing public “doxing” of protesters and organizers being carried out by right-wing figures, as well as the targeting of at least one longtime local activist by individuals who have been contacting their workplace in an attempt to get them fired. This is completely unacceptable and cannot be tolerated.
The Defenders are proud to have been on the streets virtually every day and night of the Rebellion, joining the thousands of protesters braving tear gas and risking arrest. We organized jail support for those arrested in the May 31 curfew kettle. We have reported on the protests in our online outlets for The Virginia Defender newspaper. And we have offered to build court support for any of those facing trials.
In the spirit of collective mutual aid and self-defense, we call on everyone who has participated in or supported the Rebellion to close ranks and defend all those now under attack, whether from the police, city prosecutors, elected officials, civilian rightwingers or the media. We need a strong show of Unity. We need to keep any internal disputes internal. We need to revive the old labor slogan “An Injury to One is an Injury to All!”
And we need to make it crystal clear that we will not tolerate threats, targeting, intimidation or doxing of our community members. We will continue to stand in solidarity and fight until ALL of our demands are met. We won’t back down!
In the coming days, we look forward to discussing with other activists concrete ideas for strengthening this Unity, so vital to building on the many victories we have collectively won so far.
Statement issued July 19, 2020, by the
VIRGINIA DEFENDERS FOR FREEDOM, JUSTICE & EQUALITY
PO Box 23202, Richmond, VA 23223 - Ph/Text: 804.644.5834 - DefendersFJE@hotmail.com https://defendersfje.blogspot.com/ - http://www.sacredgroundproject.net/