Virginia Capitol Police and the Richmond Police Department say they are expecting 10,000 or more participants to descend on Brown’s Island and the state Capitol on Friday as part of nationwide demonstrations against gun violence in schools.
The Richmond event, one of more than 2,000 across the U.S. that are part of the National School Walkout, “is likely to have significant impact on traffic along several downtown streets and in the immediate area of Capitol Square from midmorning into late afternoon,” Capitol police said in a statement. “Authorities are asking those who work, live or conduct business in downtown Richmond to show extra patience Friday.”
Organizers, including Maxwell Nardi, a student at Douglas S. Freeman High School in Henrico County, told police the focus of the event is on high schools, and coincides with the 19th anniversary of the shooting at Columbine High School in Colorado that killed 12 students and one teacher.
Also, Monday was the 11th anniversary of the massacre at Virginia Tech in which 32 people were killed and 17 others wounded in Blacksburg.
High school students attending Friday’s event will use Brown’s Island as the staging area, police said. About 1,000 students from Virginia Commonwealth University are also expected to join the event, walking from the Monroe Park campus to Brown’s Island.
Speeches, voter registration and other activities are planned at Brown’s Island from noon until 1 p.m., when the rally participants will walk to the Capitol, police said. Richmond police plan to escort the rally participants north on Seventh Street to Grace Street then east to Capitol Square.
The main rally is to begin at 2 p.m. on the Capitol’s South Portico and last about an hour.
“The local organizers have been excellent about not only meeting with us, but about doing all they can to work with us to help facilitate a smooth rally,” said Col. Anthony S. Pike, chief of the Virginia Capitol Police. “Along with the Richmond Police Department and our other partners, we are committed to providing a safe environment for these folks to express their freedom of speech.”
Henrico County Public Schools Superintendent Patrick C. Kinlaw and Michelle F. “Micky” Ogburn, chairwoman of the School Board, sent an email to parents and students on Monday encouraging students not to leave their campuses for the event on Friday.
“Unlike the student-led walkout that took place on March 14 involving large numbers of students assembling peacefully in memory of the victims of the Parkland, Fla., shootings, the April 20 event may involve students planning to leave their respective school campuses and not return,” the statement said. “While we continue to be supportive of students and their right to demonstrate peacefully, we will neither condone nor support the act of leaving school grounds without permission during the instructional day.”
Students who “walk out” or do not attend school that day without a written note signed by a parent or guardian “will face a consequence in accordance with the Code of Student Conduct,” the statement said.
For those joining the event at the Capitol, police said they should plan to use Ninth Street, along the western perimeter of Capitol Square between Bank Street and Grace Street, as a drop-off and pickup zone. Parking will not be allowed on Ninth Street, but drivers will be allowed to pull over and drop off rally participants before the event and pull over and pick them up afterward.
“The Richmond Police Department and the Virginia Capitol Police have a great deal of experience dealing with large crowds,” said Richmond Police Chief Alfred Durham. “While the large number of participants at this rally will cause some disruption to traffic downtown, we are encouraged the event will remain peaceful throughout.”
Capitol Police will be providing live updates throughout the day via Twitter, @VaCapitolPolice.
For those coming from out of town or unfamiliar with parking in the city, visit http://www.richmondgov.com/Parking/ to learn more about the city’s meters, garages and lots.