A mild political protest outside the Richmond Coliseum turned confrontational on Friday night as anti-Donald Trump protesters briefly scuffled with police and marched through downtown streets for an hour.
Police said they detained five people and charged one with disorderly conduct.
Trouble began after a small group of young men in Trump gear walked through a group of more than 100 protesters in Festival Park around 9 p.m. Chaotic shoving ensued and a man in a Trump T-shirt, who earlier had danced in front of the anti-Trump crowd, pointed to his lip as if he’d been punched. More shoving occurred moments later as police moved into the area as some protesters were pushed to the ground and others pushed back against the police.
After pulling the Trump supporters over a barricade and out of the area, police brought out riot shields and formed a line between the protesters and the Coliseum.
For most of the night, police kept the two sides separated.
The protest group left the Coliseum area around 9:30 p.m. and stopped traffic on Broad Street while marching through downtown. Police on bicycles escorted the group, stopping traffic as needed. The march ended at Abner Clay Park in Jackson Ward around 10:30 p.m.
“These racists are going to know that they can’t (expletive) come to Richmond without expecting a fight,” Alejandro Sosa, a 21-year-old protest organizer with the Richmond Struggle Committee Initiative, said through a megaphone as the march concluded. “We were outnumbered four to one and they’re still scared. Only a few of ‘em came out. And look what happened.”
Onlookers snapped photos of the march and some motorists honked in support, but not everyone welcomed the protest activity.
Chris Shepherd, 19, of Ashland, got in a shouting match with protesters on a Broad Street corner. Police intervened and told Shepherd to walk away or be arrested. Shepherd said he didn’t attend the Trump rally, but took exception to a protest sign that said “America was never great.”
“They’re causing a ruckus for no damn reason,” Shepherd said. “It’s childish and asinine.”
Earlier, Richmond Police Chief Alfred Durham said the protest in Festival Park was so peaceful, “It’s not even a protest.”
But Durham said police were ready for the marchers, whose progress was marked by a police aircraft marking a wide circle over downtown Richmond.
Protesters in Monroe Park said they also were prepared for confrontation with police — as leaders advised participants to carry two bottles of water, one to drink and the other to flush pepper spray out of their eyes.
“No Trump. No KKK. No fascist USA. (Expletive) Trump!” the group chanted as they began a march that blocked part of northbound Belvidere Street. Others chanted, “Black lives matter!”
Police had vowed not to allow violent confrontations between protesters and Trump supporters like those that occurred a week earlier after a Trump rally in San Jose, Calif.
At least three volunteer “legal observers” for the American Civil Liberties Union at Monroe Park were on hand to ensure people’s rights were not violated. One volunteer said the crew would record interactions between residents and police, as well as any interactions in which someone’s rights potentially are being violated.
As Corey Stewart, Trump’s Virginia chairman and a Republican candidate for governor, arrived at the arena, he said he expected a peaceful evening, unlike the chaos that has erupted outside Trump rallies elsewhere. “There’s just a different level of civility here in Virginia,” Stewart said.
Among the police precautions was a policy of keeping the plaza around the Coliseum clear of anyone who wasn’t entering the arena for the rally or gathering in Festival Park to protest. Durham said he created the “public safety zone” on advice from law enforcement officials in California. “Unless you go in, you don’t need to be hanging around in case something happens,” he said.
Initially, at least, the protests sounded like a pep rally, with a group chanting “Hey, hey, ho, ho, Donald Trump has to go,” as the candidate’s supporters walked up the center steps to the Coliseum entrance. One group offered white roses and signs of peace — “Build Kindness, Not Walls.”
Jason Aldrich, 32, of Richmond used a “Trump Bucket” to pick up cigarettes and other trash for more than an hour.
“I figured there’s enough hate going on now. This is where I’m putting my hate. It gets something done,” Aldrich said.
The Libertarian Party was represented, so was the Constitution Party of Virginia, offered as a haven for conservatives like John Bloom, a laid-off Newport News shipyard worker who had worked for Sen. Ted Cruz’s Republican presidential bid.
“Trump doesn’t stand for anything,” Bloom said. “The only thing he stands for is ‘win.’ “
Robert Courteau, 47, a retired printing worker and musician who wore a red Trump hat above two eyebrow piercings, said he’s tired of the “same old” politicians running things.
“He doesn’t answer to anyone,” said Courteau, of Chester. “Unlike the Clintons.”
Courteau said he didn’t foresee any violence, mainly because the rally was in Virginia.
“Most of the people here are scared to death of the cops,” he said. “They’ve drilled it into our heads.”
Jack Crouse, a 73-year-old retiree who came alone from Keysville, said he was protesting out of respect for his son, who did two tours of duty during the Persian Gulf War. His sign read: “Show us the taxes draft dodger.”
“I can’t abide his tough talk about ISIS after he dodged the draft five times,” Crouse said.
Protester Peggy Sterling, of Richmond, called Trump “an embarrassment to this country.”
“He doesn’t know anything,” Sterling said. “He’s an outright racist and a bigot.”
Charles Weir, of Manassas, and Chris Sweckler, of Whitfield, are part of the group Bikers for Trump, who said the candidate embodies their group’s beliefs of free speech and personal liberty.
“Our club members are defenders of liberty, and we make sure everyone has their First Amendment right to free speech,” Weir said.
“Our club supports all freedoms granted by the Constitution,” Sweckler added.
Dressed as George Washington, James Manship, 63, of Mount Vernon, compared Trump to America’s first president.
“Washington was a businessman,” he said.
Diane Paradise, 67, a retired police chaplain from Virginia Beach, drew shouts of both approval and dismay in the plastic pullover she stitched together from Trump signs.
“I think it’s time we got someone like Trump and his message out,” said Paradise, who likes the candidate’s focus on “jobs, security” and restoring the military.
But others reacted with dismay to Trump’s presence in Richmond.
“He’s not welcome here. His kind’s not welcome here,” said Scott Weaver, 44, from Richmond.
Weaver, who said he grew up in a military family that preached the value of diversity, said he believes Trump is “trying to tear us down.”
Two 18-year-old Lee-Davis High School students, Ethan Milstead and Madison Hays, stood outside the Coliseum to voice their opinion hours before the rally.
Milstead held a sign that said “Make America kind again,” while Hays held a sign that said “End the misogyny, racism, xenophobia, homophobia and blatant ignorance.”
Molly Bosscher, associate rector at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, and her son, Isak Davis, stood in silent protest against Trump.
“I’m really just standing — not interacting with the crowd in a dangerous way — just standing,” said Davis, a rising sophomore at Kenyon College.
“I believe in loving your neighbor,” Bosscher said.
While a small group of protesters chanted “Trump has got to go,” Sonya Atkins countered with her own chant. “Trump has got to stay,” she sang as she kept time clapping on a table outside the Coliseum.
Homeless and jobless, Atkins, a 53-year-old African-American, said people need to stop making excuses and come to terms with economic reality.
“I’m a moderate Republican,” she said. “I used to be a Democrat, but I changed.”