Between Issues

STATEMENT BY DEFENDER KAT MCNEAL ON THE MASS ARRESTS OF SUNDAY, MAY 31, 2020

This story was published between issues of the newspaper. Reproduced here for accessibility and archival purposes.

Originally published June 1, 2020, on the Virginia Defender Facebook page. Edited on October 21 for style purposes.

By Kat McNeal

I was arrested at a protest last night and spent the night in Richmond City Jail. I was charged with a class 1 misdemeanor for breaking the executive order imposing the 8 pm curfew and released after approximately 9 hours. At the time that I left the jail premises after my roommate was released after 12 hours, there were still people sitting on buses in the facility’s garage waiting to be processed. From news reports this morning, I see that 233 people were arrested in connection to the protest.

Let’s get this out of the way first, as it will be the first question from many people: from the time I arrived at the Lee monument around 6 pm to the point at which I was arrested on Leigh street around 10 pm, I didn’t see any kind of violence or even vandalism from any of the many hundreds of protesters who took the streets. Those of you who know me know that if I did see people spraying graffiti or breaking windows, I would be inclined to defend this except in clear fuck-up cases like that of Waller & Company, but I didn’t see a single thing like that in the four hours I was out. The protest was high-energy and vocally militant (“fuck the police,” “fuck Trump,” “fuck 12”) but not violent. The crowd began, prior to the curfew, as a multiracial group slanted heavily to younger people, and as the evening wore on, the proportion of Black protesters and youth only became higher. I got the impression that there were slightly more women than men, but can’t confirm if this is the case.

According to a VPM story by Yasmine Jumaa, chief of police Will Smith said, “I want to make sure that the citizens of Richmond know that our enforcement of the curfew was directed solely at those that were involved in violence and destruction of our city.” This is an absolute and total lie. Additionally, the police are now claiming, according to a WRIC article posted today around 1 pm, to have arrested “members of ANTIFA and numerous people from outside of the Richmond area and Virginia”. This is not only a preposterous lie but part of a developing establishment narrative which is trying to co-opt the immense rage and pain of people enduring the unendurable — racially motivated murder and brutality by the nation’s police, against which they have no recourse, year after year and death after death — and shunt it solely into unthreatening, co-optable, easily appeased demonstrations, in part to support the ruling class desire put down these rebellions as soundly as possible.

Even just on the surface, this is bullshit: what the hell is a “member of ANTIFA”? A ‘member’ to the ideology of antifascism? Arrest me for that then, I guess. There’s also absolutely zero evidence that these protests are being fomented or even largely attended by random agitators from outside the state. A Richmond Times-Dispatch article published today, by reporter Ali Rockett, says that police are reporting that 3 of the 16 cars towed in connection with last night’s protest had out-of-state plates, but that’s frankly unsurprising considering that Richmond has three major universities which attract students from all over the world. It’s clear to me that these points are heralding a coming repression which will involve heavy felony charges. RPD is already talking to the FBI, according to that same WRIC article.

An additional point:

From my experience in the jail, it was clear to me that local law enforcement is angry about the content of the protests and interested in punishing those involved, by means ranging from the banal-like long periods alone in cells and strip searches all the way up to rough rides in cop vans to exposure to unsafe and potentially COVID-transmitting environments. They’re mad, they can take it out on you when you’re under their power, and they want us to know that. Those officers and deputies who aren’t actively spiteful are either unbothered by the actions of their colleagues or vaguely apologetic but disempowered to intervene. As of 1 pm today, police chief Will Smith was saying that no protester had complained to his office regarding their treatment — but frankly this is probably because people treated badly were crawling home to recover. Be aware of this and always have someone backing you up on the outside, if you’re going to risk arrest.

If you were one of these people, if you spoke to me in lockup and want to get in touch, or if you have something else to say to me, please email me at DefendersFJE@hotmail.com.

A personal note: Massive thanks to Phil Wilayto and Joseph Rogers, our stalwart backups outside of jail, to the Richmond Community Bail Fund, which was ready to roll, to our attorney, and to other supporters that I either can’t remember or who are too personal to thank in a public message. We are heading for both a severe government crackdown and heightened activity from armed right-wing groups. Be smart, be safe, stick together, Black lives matter.

Categories: Between Issues

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