RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — The ACLU of Virginia is filing a lawsuit on behalf of the Virginia Student Power Network against the City of Richmond, the Richmond Police Department and the Virginia State Police for the conflict that took place on the evening of June 22-23.
“Black students and youth have been leading the movement for racial justice in Richmond,” said Ibby Han, director of VSPN. “It’s imperative that the police’s excessive use of force and military-grade crowd control weapons are immediately curbed.”
The lawsuit says these three entities violated the student activists’ constitutional rights to free speech, assembly and protest by declaring an unlawful assembly with the intent of silencing and keeping students from demonstrating.
On June 22, the ACLU said a group of students held a “teach-in” in front of City Hall which was attended by about 150 people. Those who attended the protest told 8News they had discussions, screened a movie and got food catered. Many protesters claim the gathering was peaceful.
Richmond Police declared an unlawful assembly, which was announced to the protesters and posted on Twitter, at 12:42 a.m. on June 23, according to a release from the department. Officers arrested 12 people “who had not dispersed” after another 45 minutes.
According to the department, the crowd “threw traffic cones, barricades and concrete trash cans into the street” and also threw objects, including rocks, at officers. Police said one officer was hurt when he was hit on the arm by a hickory stick.
The New Virginia Majority said that RPD and VSP used excessive force against protesters, firing tear gas, pepper spray, rubber bullets, and flash grenades into the crowd
Since the tragic murder of George Floyd and the protests against police violence that have followed, state and local police operating in Richmond have shown a pattern of violence toward protesters who speak out against systemic and anti-Black racism. When these young people tried to educate their community about racism in Richmond and how to dismantle it, police stormed in and turned their positive space into a war zone. City leaders have a responsibility to protect our constitutional rights, instead they have encouraged the escalation of violence by police against protesters.Eden Heilman, legal director for the ACLU of Virginia
Later that afternoon, NVM announced its support and solidarity with the lawsuit filed.
“A boiling point has been reached, and people from all walks of life are starting to demand an immediate stop to police violence and real policy solutions from our leaders,” said Tram Nguyen, NVM co-executive director.
In addition to the complaint, the VSPN is requesting an immediate order to stop these violations.
This isn’t the only lawsuit resulting from clashes between demonstrators and police. Earlier this month, a protester filed a lawsuit against 10 RPD officers for $50,000 after a crowd of peaceful protesters at the Robert E. Lee monument were tear-gassed on June 1.