RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — Protesters and police came to a head again on Thursday night, when Richmond Police Department Officers arrested demonstrators at GWARBar in Jackson Ward.

In an announcement, RPD said officers arrived at the 200 block of West Clay Street around 10:20 p.m. on Thursday, Aug. 20, after learning about a flyer promoting an event being shared by a group they believe to be linked to recent riots.

The owner of GWARBar, Michael Derks, said he received multiple calls warning him about the event, including councilwoman Kim Gray who called the bar and asked them to close and put up “no trespassing” sign so that the police could protect the restaurant.

The flyer that was circulated around for Thursday's event.
The flyer that was circulated around for Thursday’s event.

Derks said he chose not to close the bar.

“The night was pretty quiet except for the constant stream of police vehicles circling the block,” He said. “At 10 o’clock, a few people started to gather in the parking lot. They appeared calm and peaceful to me.”

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Derks said he told the group he was the owner and to come and tell him if they were told they were trespassing.

“I simply didn’t want to see this become one of those situations that we’ve all been seeing too often where people are arrested for seemingly no reason,” he said. “I foolishly thought that I could act as an intermediary and be the voice of reason between the police and protesters.”

Derks said people were asked by police to show their identification, and when the first person refused they were thrown to the ground and arrested. He said police told him they were arresting people for “obstructing justice.” After the arrest he said the group became agitated and yelled at the police.

“After several hours and several more arrests the police withdrew and things calmed down again,” he said.

In a video of the incident published Thursday night on Twitter, police cab be seeing detaining two individuals who were at the bar.

Police said they made the arrests after “a confrontation with officers.”

Knisya Johnson was arrested during the incident and was charged with assault on a law enforcement officer. (Editor’s note: A second person was also arrested and all charges were dropped on Nov. 12, 2020.)

Jimmie Lee Jarvis saw the flyer on social media and was curious. He decided to go to GWARbar to get a drink.

“What was 15 people hanging out became over 100 people heavily armed escalating things until multiple people were arrested,” said Jarvis.

Jarvis began to record the interaction on his phone once officers started to ask everyone for their identification. In his video, he was thrown to the ground.

“Police wanted to justify their presence,” said Jarvis.

According to Anthony Goode, a nearby neighbor, at least two blocks were filled with police officers and protesters were in the parking lot of the bar. He added a lot of neighbors came out of their homes, worrying that their property would be damaged.

“Just a scene of chaos and commotion,” Goode said.

He was walking down Clay street when confrontation began.

“We come to the intersection and we see swat all the way from that white car to that red car and we’re like what’s going on,” Gould said.

The neighbor said the activity lasted until around 1 a.m.

Derks said he spoke with Councilwoman Gray about the harassment she and her family have suffered over the past few months.

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“I do not condone this harassment and I do not condone vandalism, but I do support free speech with all of my heart,” Derks said. “I understand how Ms. Gray feels betrayed by my decision not to close my restaurant, but I can not know what people do when they are not at my establishment. I can only influence what they do when they are there and I will not allow people to be discriminated against while they are here, whether it be for the color of their skin, their sexual orientation or even the way they dress.

“It is not my job to comment on how people live their lives when they are not at the GWARbar, it is only to give them a welcoming and enjoyable place to eat, drink, and escape the horrors of a world turned upside down.”

The city survey for GWARBar’s property.

Editor’s note 12/7/2020: A second person was also arrested during the incident and all charges were dropped on Nov. 12, 2020. This article has been updated to remove references to that individual.