ACLU of Virginia filed a lawsuit Friday against the City of Richmond, Richmond Police Department and the Virginia State Police on behalf of state youth organizers, alleging the agencies violated their rights to free speech, assembly and protest.
The youth organizers are part of the Virginia Student Power Network, and have been on the frontlines of protests for the past four weeks in Richmond. This complaint addresses the sit-in in front of City Hall Monday night, which was attended by 150 people who intended to stay overnight and teach those in attendance about police violence and community advocacy.
At around 12:42 a.m., police declared an unlawful assembly and fired tear gas, flash bangs, rubber bullets and pepper spray. In a news release, Richmond police said protesters threw rocks and other objects but made no mention of their use of force.
On Twitter, the Richmond Police Department said the area was declared an unlawful assembly due to “sit-ins, sit-downs, blocking traffic, blocking entrances or exits of buildings that impact public safety or infrastructure.”
The City of Richmond and Richmond and state police declined to comment, citing that they do not release public statements on ongoing or pending lawsuits.
The ACLU is seeking a declaration from the court that police have been acting unlawfully and ask the court to prohibit police from “engaging in activities that violate protesters’ constitutional rights.”
“When these young people tried to educate their community about racism in Richmond and how to dismantle it, police stormed in and turned their positive space into a war zone,” said Eden Heilman, legal director for the ACLU of Virginia. “City leaders have a responsibility to protect our constitutional rights, instead they have encouraged the escalation of violence by police against protesters.”
Taylor Maloney, a senior at Virginia Commonwealth University who is named in the affidavit, said the suit takes a stand against the “unchecked violent and outright malicious behavior exhibited by the Richmond police.”
“I want space for us to mourn and be angry at the system we didn’t ask to live in,” Maloney said.
In addition to the complaint, the ACLU filed a request for the city, RPD and VSP to halt these alleged violations.
New Virginia Majority released a statement of solidarity with Virginia Student Power Network Friday afternoon, noting an escalation of police violence against protesters.
“A boiling point has been reached, and people from all walks of life are starting to demand an immediate stop to police violence and real policy solutions from our leaders,” stated Tram Nguyen, NVM co-executive director. “As a lifelong Richmonder, I’m heartened to see that young Black people are leading the way, and using their voices to protest violence and senseless killings. We should follow their lead.”