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Stoney joins protest march after promising support and policy change, leaves to boos 45 minutes before curfew

On the fifth night of protests that have seen Richmond’s streets burning, police tear-gassing peaceful demonstrators, and people fighting against the police brutality that killed George Floyd, Mayor Levar Stoney walked Tuesday evening alongside the residents he swore to serve.

Hundreds waited for him at the Virginia State Capitol, where the National Guard looked on as organizer Natalie André told people to ask themselves why they’re here, and repeated a reminder to “not let your emotions be the reason why you don’t think before you do something.” Richmond Public Schools Superintendent Jason Kamras watched with son Ezra to the side.

Stoney began to march from the Capitol around 6 p.m., as a sea of demonstrators took up more than five blocks of Broad Street. In an interview with the Richmond Times-Dispatch moments before the crowd converged with thousands already waiting at the Robert E. Lee statue on Monument Avenue, Stoney said he felt the pain that comes with seeing a fellow black man killed by police. 

The mayor vowed to expedite policies that would remove choke holds, establish a civilian review board to hold police accountable and investigate de-escalation techniques — demands activists have called for in Richmond since the killing of Marcus-David Peters during a mental health crisis in 2018 by Richmond police department.

“I want us to do better. There’s been a lot of injustices out there,” Stoney said. “I’m here to stand by those peaceful protesters today, 100%”

Then 45 minutes before the 8 p.m. curfew he put in place on Sunday, he walked out. “Please stay with us. Please,” some people said. “We need you to do better.”

The booing began once he told the crowd at the base of the Lee monument that he wouldn’t stay past the curfew.

The night before, half an hour before curfew, protesters at the same location were barraged with tear gas without warning by police in riot gear.

As Stoney left, he assured demonstrators the tear gassing wouldn’t happen again. A spokesman for the mayor said he had to leave because of the 8 p.m. curfew and that it took 30 minutes to leave the crowded area.

State Sens. Ghazala Hashmi, D-Chesterfield, and Jennifer McClellan, D-Richmond, along with Richmond City Councilman Michael Jones, stayed to speak with residents after Stoney left. As curfew neared, people began singing “Lean on Me” by Bill Withers, swaying from side to side as the police presence dwindled.

Earlier Tuesday during a gathering outside City Hall, Stoney apologized for the tear gas deployed Monday and promised that unspecified disciplinary action would be taken. Protesters said they needed more than an apology — they want action. Tuesday night, chants echoed on Monument Avenue, asking Stoney to release the badge numbers of the officers who used tear gas.

Also on hand Tuesday evening was Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax, who vowed to disobey Stoney’s curfew. “It’s 8 o’clock and I’m not going anywhere,” he said, according to Virginia Public Media.

As of 10 p.m. Tuesday, police reported no fires, property damage or other incidents related to the protests. Stoney said earlier Tuesday that peaceful protesters would not be arrested for violating the curfew. Two hundred people were arrested for violating an 8 p.m. curfew in the city on Sunday.

Police had a modest presence during the march on Tuesday, which began around 6 p.m. Security was tight, however, near police headquarters on Grace Street, which was blocked by military Humvees. Soldiers were also on hand at the state Capitol.

Asked if consideration was being given to dropping charges against those arrested Sunday, Richmond Commonwealth’s Attorney Colette McEachin said that her office “is giving each case the individualized attention it deserves and each case will be resolved as appropriate based upon the evidence.”

PHOTOS: Tuesday afternoon protest march in Richmond

WATCH NOW: Crowds march after demanding firings from Stoney for police actions

Above a crowd of more than 1,000 people who were demanding answers from the mayor and the police chief after Richmond officers used tear gas Monday to disperse a peaceful demonstration, one voice stood out from the rest.

An 8-year-old girl in a pink sweatshirt covered in hearts spoke, calmly and shyly, from the shoulders of those standing on the steps of City Hall on Tuesday.

“I’m scared,” Raigen Tucker said quietly into the megaphone that her mother, Latisha Carson, had brought with them — to make sure they were heard, Carson added.

“She’s afraid they going to shoot tear gas at us, so we need to back up,” Carson repeated for the crowd in her commanding voice.

The 8-year-old’s fear of the police brought a sobering moment that quieted the emotional crowd — parts of which had teemed toward the municipal building’s entrance after security and organizers had already asked the crowd to move back. Most in attendance took a knee, even those who spilled into the street and onto the lawn of the building across from it.

But tempers flared again quickly as Mayor Levar Stoney and Police Chief William Smith provided few answers, and even less action, as a result of the incident at the Robert E. Lee statue shortly before the 8 p.m. curfew Monday.

Stoney said “disciplinary actions will be taken.” Those among the crowd cried out for the immediate firing of the officers involved, and Smith’s resignation. They also asked that all charges be dropped against anyone who was arrested while protesting over the past four nights.

“I want to begin by saying I’m sorry,” Stoney told the crowd, which didn’t want apologies. “It should not have happened.”

Smith also addressed the crowd, saying: “We have made mistakes.” He said he was committed to “working together to try to make this a better society.”

Most of their words, though, were drowned out by the objections of the crowd. Stoney and Smith walked back into City Hall after facing the crowd for about an hour, with some calling them “cowards” for leaving. Police officers barred residents from following them into City Hall.

Lawmakers also condemned the actions. Del. Elizabeth Guzman, D-Prince William, called for the removal of the involved officers and “full transparency.”

“Enough is enough,” she said in a statement. “It is not anti-law enforcement to ask for oversight, just as there is in every other profession — and not every other profession has the power to take and ruin lives.”

U.S. Rep. Donald McEachin, D-4th, called tear gas against peaceful protesters “alarmingly authoritarian, un-American and utterly unacceptable.”

“American citizens exercising their constitutional rights — among them freedom of speech and assembly — is law and order,” said McEachin, who represents a district that encompasses part of Richmond and eastern Henrico County, among other places. “We cannot ask protesters to make themselves heard in a peaceful, constructive way, then tear gas them while they are lawfully assembled.”

Mikhail Smith was doused with OC spray, commonly referred to as pepper spray, as police walked below his second-story window on Saturday night and was among the crowd as tear gas thickened the air Monday night.

He said he had been among those demonstrating peacefully for the past four days and nights, and suffered the constant threat of the police brutality that is the subject of the protests.

“This is bigger than me,” he said. Mikhail Smith, among those organizing the event on Tuesday, said he wanted answers from Stoney. He attempted, to little avail, to quiet the crowd.

Nearly two hours after Monday’s incident, the police department apologized on Twitter and promised discipline for officers caught on video aggressively pursuing and spraying people with tear gas.

In an interview after the confrontation at City Hall, Chief Smith said he wouldn’t go into details about the officers who were under review for their actions, nor would he ask the commonwealth’s attorney to drop the charges against those arrested during the protests.

He also said rocks were being thrown at officers, which people in Monday’s demonstration didn’t see; Smith told another group, whom he spoke to outside City Hall after the event Tuesday, that people were trying to pull down a statue, which the group said was not the Lee monument.

“They apologized, but they still blamed us,” said Faith Love, who was at the Lee statue on Monday. “That was the weirdest apology ever. We don’t want apologies. We want you to act.”

Love and the others in her group said the threat of tear gas will not deter them from returning to protest Tuesday night.

But Lakeisha James, who with her 17-year-old daughter when the crowd around the statue was gassed, said she’s not sure if she will go back out. Her daughter, who graduated from L.C. Bird High School in Chesterfield County on Tuesday, was significantly affected by the gas, she said.

“She’s in pain,” James said. “She’s the future, and they hurt her. She feels like they should listen to her because she was out there expressing herself the right way.”

James was in tears because she didn’t get a chance to speak to or really hear from Stoney, and tell him about her daughter. She had to rush downtown from her daughter’s graduation from Bird.

“I appreciated him for at least wanting to listen,” she said. “I don’t usually get that. He didn’t have to do this today. I wish they would have given people a chance to talk to me — he was talking to me — I was affected.”

Many in the crowd left City Hall, marching through the streets of Richmond for about two hours. The protesters planned to reconvene at 6 p.m., and Stoney joined them until 7:15 p.m. People booed as he left.

PHOTOS: Black Lives Matter protests, marches in Richmond on Tuesday

What's the Phase 2 plan for restaurants, gyms, pools and retail in Virginia?

Virginia will move to the second phase of the state’s COVID-19 reopening on Friday, with the exception of Richmond and Northern Virginia.

Restaurants and bars will be able to open their businesses for indoor dining at 50% capacity, while gyms may open at 30% capacity. The state will allow some recreation and entertainment venues to reopen, such as pools, museums and outdoor concert venues. But indoor concert venues and overnight camps will remain closed.

The state will also raise the limit on social gatherings from 10 people to 50, though the guidelines call for social distancing of 6 feet to continue.

Gov. Ralph Northam announced Tuesday that COVID-19 trends in the state support moving forward with a phased reopening. Northam said the state is averaging around 10,000 tests per day and hospitals are reporting adequate supplies of protective equipment.

“Now based on that data, I feel comfortable allowing most of Virginia to move on to Phase Two this Friday,” Northam said.

Northern Virginia and Richmond — which along with Accomack County delayed reopening — will remain in Phase One.

“They only moved onto Phase One last Friday, and we need more time to look at their metrics,” Northam said.

Accomack County on the Eastern Shore will move to Phase Two, Northam said, after extensive testing showed an outbreak there was under control.

Northam said that in Phase Two, Virginians should continue to follow social distancing, teleworking and face mask guidelines, and encouraged the state to continue under the recommendation of “safer at home.”

“We are still in this pandemic,” he said.

The Phase Two guidance instructs all employers to screen their employees for COVID-19 before shifts. All employers are also asked to limit the occupancy of their workplaces to ensure physical distancing by encouraging telework whenever possible and staggering shifts.

All employers are also asked to disinfect high-contact areas at least every two hours, or after each use by different individuals. They should also build in additional breaks for employees to wash their hands regularly.

Restaurants, gyms and retail businesses are asked to post signs at their entrances that no one with a fever or COVID-19 symptoms, or a recent exposure, is allowed to enter.

Retail businesses are also asked to help customers maintain social distancing, including by using floor markings in areas where customers tend to congregate, like the checkout line.

Gyms are asked to screen all patrons before letting them in by asking whether they have a fever or COVID-19 symptoms. Personal trainers have to remain 10 feet away from their clients.

Gyms must ban the use of any equipment that can’t be thoroughly disinfected, like climbing ropes and some exercise bands.

Indoor and outdoor swimming pools can open for lap swimming, diving, exercise and instruction only. Indoor and outdoor sports can go on, as long as there is 10 feet of distance between coaches, players and spectators.

Guidelines for religious establishments remain the same: Churches can reopen at 50% capacity.

Daily numbers

The Virginia Department of Health reported Tuesday that the statewide total for COVID-19 cases is 46,239 — an increase of 841 from the 45,398 reported Monday.

While overall case numbers have increased with more testing, VDH data show the percentage of positive results are continuing a decline that started in the middle of April.

The 46,239 cases reported Tuesday consist of 44,069 confirmed cases and 2,170 probable cases. Also, there are 1,407 COVID-19 deaths in Virginia — 1,300 confirmed and 107 probable. That’s an increase of 15 from the 1,392 reported Sunday.

VDH defines probable COVID-19 cases as people who are symptomatic with a known exposure to COVID-19, but whose cases have not been confirmed with a positive test.

VDH data shows most cases (79%) are occurring in adults between the ages of 20 and 69, with people in their 40s accounting for the largest percentage of cases (18.6%). The majority of deaths (76.8%) are among Virginians over the age of 70.

In the Richmond area, there are 5,315 cases: 1,919 in Henrico County, 1,627 in Chesterfield County, 1,434 in Richmond and 335 in Hanover County. Also, the region has 220 deaths attributed to the virus: 135 in Henrico, 37 in Chesterfield, 24 in Richmond and 24 in Hanover.

Fairfax County, the state’s most populous locality with more than 1.1 million people, has the most cases with 11,426 and 391 deaths.

VDH said there are 367 outbreaks in the state, 214 in long-term care facilities. These facilities also account for 796 of the state’s deaths attributed to the virus.

State health officials have said there’s a lag in the reporting of statewide numbers on the VDH website. Figures on the website might not include cases or deaths reported by localities or local health districts.

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Northam denies Trump administration request to send Va. National Guard to 'clamp down' on D.C. unrest

Gov. Ralph Northam on Monday denied a request from the Trump administration to deploy Virginia’s National Guard to “dominate” protesters in Washington, as he criticized Trump for his rhetoric toward ongoing protests of racism across the nation.

“I am not going to send our men and women in uniform of our very proud National Guard to Washington for a photo op,” Northam said Tuesday, referring to the dispersing of a peaceful protest outside the White House on Monday, with tear gas and flash bangs, for the president’s televised visit to a nearby church.

The Pentagon on Monday requested that Virginia send between 3,000 and 5,000 members of its National Guard to “clamp down” unrest in the nation’s capital, which, like many cities across the country, has seen peaceful and violent demonstrations in protest of police brutality, particularly toward people of color.

In a call with Defense Secretary Mark Esper on Monday afternoon, Northam declined Esper’s request out of concern that Washington Mayor Muriel Bowser had not been consulted.

The Northam administration also expressed concern about President Donald Trump’s rhetoric during a call with governors at noon Monday, during which he urged governors to “dominate” protests with an “occupying force,” a military reference.

“The message regrettably was not one of healing, was not one of unity. It was one of divisiveness. I regret that coming from the leader of the most powerful country in the world,” Northam said during a news conference Tuesday, flanked by black leaders from across the state.

As the sound of protests rose outside, Northam expressed sympathy for George Floyd, and others similarly killed by police. “The protests we are seeing are for them, and because of a system that continues to allow this to happen.”

The Northam administration received the Pentagon’s request before the call, and quickly reached out to Bowser to confirm that the city was working in coordination with federal officials. Bowser said it was not.

“When this request came in, we quickly learned it had not been made at Mayor Bowser’s request or coordinated with her, and we have heightened concern based on the President’s remarks that the Administration is looking to use the Guard to escalate — not de-escalate — the situation,” said Northam chief of staff Clark Mercer in a statement.

The Trump administration made similar requests of other states, including Delaware and Maryland. Bowser’s administration did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Hours after the initial request, Northam participated in the call between the Trump administration and the nation’s governors at noon on Monday, during which Trump admonished leaders for not reacting to protests more aggressively.

“You have to dominate or you’ll look like a bunch of jerks, you have to arrest and try people,” Trump said, according to a transcript of the call published by CNN. “It’s a movement, if you don’t put it down it will get worse and worse. … The only time it’s successful is when you’re weak and most of you are weak.”

Talking specifically about D.C., Trump said he was planning to “pull in thousands of people” to have Washington under “much more control.”

“We’re going to clamp down very, very strong,” Trump said.

Also during the call, Esper told governors to “dominate the battle space,” by mobilizing their National Guards.

The Northam administration has tapped some 380 members of its National Guard to assist with unrest in Virginia, which has seen peaceful and violent protests in Richmond and elsewhere. Humvees and a few dozen Guard troops were stationed inside Capitol Square near the Executive Mansion Tuesday evening.

An additional 500 members of the Guard are on duty to assist with the state’s COVID-19 response.

Mercer said those numbers paled in comparison to the request from the Pentagon, which called for a sizable share of the state’s 7,000-member Guard.

At one point during the call, Trump said that the presence of the National Guard during rioting in decades past “seems to be a very calming effect,” particularly referring to the 1992 Los Angeles riots tied to the beating by police of Rodney King, a black man.

While Trump at first described violent protests and looting as the impetus for an aggressive crackdown by police, he later compared current protests to the 2011 Occupy Wall Street protest, which was largely peaceful.

“It was a disaster until one day, somebody said that’s enough, and they just went in and wiped them out and that’s the last time we ever heard the name Occupy Wall Street,” Trump said.

Northam sought to strike a different tone on Tuesday, saying the protests “didn’t spring out of thin air.”

“Racism and discrimination aren’t locked in our past. They weren’t solved with the Civil Rights Act. They didn’t disappear. They evolved,” Northam said.

Speaking to the state’s black residents, he said, “I cannot know the depth of your pain. What I can do is stand with you, and I can support you.”

Northam, who last year faced widespread calls for his resignation over a racist yearbook photo that he denies participating in, said his administration will continue to work on racial inequity in the state.

Northam said he plans to host virtual town hall meetings on criminal justice reform and a statewide “day of prayer, healing and action.” Northam is also directing a group tasked with studying inequity in the Virginia code to focus on criminal justice reform. He also plans to meet with the Virginia Association of Chiefs of Police.

At Tuesday’s news conference, Del. Delores McQuinn, D-Richmond, and Northam’s chief diversity officer, Janice Underwood, said much work remains to be done at the legislative level to bring equity to Virginia.

“We are clearly a nation in crisis and chaos, fueled by yet another casualty of systemic racism,” McQuinn said.

“This is change that will be painful for some, but necessary to advance equity and inclusion,” Underwood said.

One of two officers shot in Richmond early Tuesday has life-threatening injuries

Two Richmond police officers and a 19-year-old man were injured early Tuesday in an exchange of gunfire on the city’s South Side, authorities said. One of the officers suffered life-threatening injuries.

Police said officers responded at 1:25 a.m. to a report of an armed person in the 800 block of Semmes Avenue, near the Manchester Bridge. When the officers arrived, they encountered three men in the 1000 block of Semmes.

“During their interaction, one of the males produced a firearm and exchanged gunfire with one of the officers,” police said in a statement released at just before 7 p.m. Tuesday. “It was at this time the two officers were struck, along with the suspect.”

The two injured officers and the man who was shot were taken to a hospital for treatment. One officer suffered life-threatening injuries; the other officer and the 19-year-old each had non-life-threatening gunshot wounds.

Police said early Tuesday that they had detained the two other men. In the later news release, police said the men remained on the scene.

Waseem A. Hackett, the teen who was shot, was charged with malicious wounding of a law enforcement officer and use of a firearm in commission of a felony. Hackett also was served with outstanding warrants from a nearby jurisdiction, police said, and additional charges were pending. Police said Hackett has no known permanent address.

Police said only one of the three men said they had attended the protests that had swept the city earlier that day. They did not say which man it was.

One witness said he was visiting from Tennessee and staying with his father, who lives near where the shooting unfolded.

This witness, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said he heard a loud siren about 1:30 a.m. and heard tires screech and a car door slam. He looked outside and saw two police officers get out of a car and approach a group of men as if the officers planned to search the men. Suddenly, both officers backed off quickly and the witness saw at least one muzzle flash. He said he heard five to six shots.

“I don’t know who shot first,” he said.

Lisa Kirk, who lives in an apartment near the scene, said she awoke to the sound of sirens, looked outside and heard gunshots in the area of SunTrust Mortgage. “There were three shots very, very quickly in a row,” she said. “A police officer kept saying, ‘Get in your car, get in your car.’ Then the cavalry arrived from every direction.”

Some of the police cars jumped the median on Semmes Avenue, and the officers blocked off surrounding streets, she said.

Kirk also said she saw police escorting a detainee afterward and that she was surprised by how calm the police appeared.

Police said in a news release that the RPD’s Force Investigation Team will investigate the shooting and prepare a report for the police chief and the commonwealth’s attorney’s office.

This appears to be the first officer-involved shooting in the city this year, according to independent records kept by the Richmond Times-Dispatch. Police could not confirm that Tuesday.

Last year, Richmond officers were involved in two separate shootings, neither of which was fatal.

In 2018, RPD officers shot four people, killing two.

In one of the fatal shootings, in May 2018, an officer shot Marcus-David Peters, who was unarmed, naked and in a mental health crisis when he charged the officer. In December of that year, two officers killed a man who refused to drop the knife he was using to attack a woman in the backyard of her home on Cary Street.