Chesterfield police chief supports right to protest but says officers will thwart ‘criminal outbursts’

Chesterfield County

CHESTERFIELD COUNTY, Va. (WRIC) — Chesterfield’s police chief called “dissent and protest” healthy in a Facebook post Monday, but said violent demonstrations in the wake of George Floyd’s death were unacceptable and that the county’s police department is prepared to thwart any “criminal outbursts.”

Floyd died a week ago today after an encounter with four Minneapolis police officers who were responding to a call that he had allegedly used counterfeit money to purchase cigarettes from a local store. Video taken from the scene showed the officers pin Floyd, who was handcuffed, to the ground for several minutes.

All of the officers involved were fired and the officer seen on video kneeling on Floyd’s neck as he complained that he couldn’t breathe, Derek Chauvin, was eventually charged with third-degree murder and manslaughter. Floyd’s death has sparked protests across the country.

In order to reassure residents of their commitment “to maintain the trust of the public,” the Virginia Association of Chiefs of Police and some local police chiefs issued statements on May 29 after charges against Chauvin were announced. Since then, protests in Richmond and across Virginia have taken place over the last three days.

Chesterfield County Police Chief Jeffrey Katz wrote that he’s received several messages from community members “concerned about local riots spreading into” the county. Katz said that Chesterfield police welcomes and supports “all First Amendment expression,” but warned of groups hijacking “reasonable and appropriate protests.”

“Dissent and protest are healthy. Rioting is not. I want to take some time to reassure each of you that we are well prepared to support those who seek our assistance in safely exercising their First Amendment Rights. We are also prepared to quickly quell violent criminal outbursts in our community and prosecute these folks to the fullest extent of the law,” Col. Katz wrote. “Hijacking a righteous message and drowning out the fears and concerns of vulnerable and scared people in our community with violence, chaos, and destruction is not okay. This is where we draw the line. If it comes our way, we will deal with it accordingly.”

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