This story was published between issues of the newspaper. Reproduced here for accessibility and archival purposes.
Originally published June 12, 2020 on the Virginia Defender Facebook page.
By Phil Wilayto
RICHMOND, VA, June 12 — Richmond police have confirmed the arrest of one of several heavily armed individuals involved in an incident early this morning at the Lee statue on Monument Avenue. Several others were “detained,” but apparently have not yet been charged.
According to an eyewitness interviewed by The Virginia Defender, the incident involved one of several vehicles carrying heavily armed white men knocking down a young Black man and his bicycle and dragging the man and his bike for several feet along the grassy area of the Lee Monument circle.
In response to an inquiry by the Defender, police spokesperson James Mercante stated today that police officers followed the vehicles, making three separate traffic stops. The stops “revealed multiple assault-style rifles, handguns, ammunition and body armor. Three assault-style rifles and one handgun were seized. … Multiple persons were detained, none with addresses in the City of Richmond. One individual was arrested and charged with Possession of a Firearm by a Convicted Felon.”
Mercante stated that “further investigation may lead to additional charges in relation to this incident” and asked that anyone with information about the incident call Crime Stoppers at (804) 780-1000.
According to Mercante, “This morning at approximately 12:55 a.m., RPD officers in the area of the Robert E. Lee circle observed individuals in the traffic lanes dismounted with their bicycles. Several pickup trucks approached them. Words were exchanged between the individuals and the drivers of the pickup trucks. One pickup truck sped off and then another pickup truck ran over a bicycle while fleeing the area. Officers quickly responded and made three traffic stops related to this incident.”
The Defender first learned of the events from Justin L. Upshaw, a protester we know who said he was at the Lee statue at around 12:55 this morning.
“I observed three trucks that had been circling the Lee Monument where protestors were sitting, and some were in front of or walking with bikes directly in front of [a Richmond Police Department] car,” Upshaw texted.
“I saw the vehicles come to a halt, something that they haven’t done the past week [while] the menacing has occurred. As I walked around the corner of the monument, I observed a black male, late teens/early 20s, standing with his bike, in front of one of the vehicles – a pickup truck, [which] had its bumper pressing against the man and his bike.
“Words were exchanged, and the vehicle’s engine ‘revved up’ and I observed the vehicle topple the rider and bike, dragging them across the sidewalk. I observed several feet of markings on the pavement consistent with hard metal dragged over concrete. I possess video and pictures of this, and the several more (approx seven) feet of tire marks curving in TOWARD the monument and protests before it leads back out to the road.
“The vehicles increased speed and headed west on monument ave. After a delay, the officer on site proceeded at a leisurely pace in the direction of the assailants.”
Upshaw said the young man knocked down by the pickup truck “is physically ok, emotionally, not.”
This would be the second time in recent days that rightwingers have used a vehicle to assault a Black Lives Matter protester. The earlier incident, just two days ago, involved a self-described leader of the KKK in Virginia who allegedly ran his truck into a group of anti-racist protesters on Lakeside Avenue near Vale Street in Henrico County. The protesters had been heading toward the Richmond statue of Confederate Gen. Ambrose Powell “A.P.” Hill Jr. (in a traffic circle where the Confederate general is actually buried, in an upright position.) Klansman Harry H. Rogers, 36, was charged with attempted malicious wounding, felony vandalism, and assault and battery.
Anyone witnessing assaults or threatening behaviour against BLM protesters is urged to text or phone the Defender at 804-644-5823, email DefendersFJE@hotmail.com or message us on our Facebook page.
And a word of advice: We obviously have entered a new period of protest in the Richmond area. Please be careful, always have people on the perimeter of actions looking out for possible problems, and do not assume that bike marshals will by themselves be able to control hostile drivers.