Confederate memorial hall burned as second night of outrage erupts in Virginia

By: and - May 31, 2020 1:18 am

Protesters on Broad Street in downtown Richmond on Saturday night. (Ned Oliver/Virginia Mercury)

Protesters in Richmond set fire to the United Daughters of the Confederacy headquarters and covered Confederate memorials with graffiti during a second night of outrage and violence Saturday that saw one person shot, businesses around the city looted and storefronts torched.

Mayor Levar Stoney condemned the destruction, which has played out in cities across the country following the death of George Floyd in Minnesota. Stoney announced Sunday morning that Gov. Ralph Northam had granted his request for a curfew and said the National Guard was on standby to help enforce it.

Police said one person in a vehicle was shot by a protester and the victim is in life-threatening condition. In separate incident, police said protesters set fire to a home occupied by a child and blocked the fire department from responding.

“We can not sit here idly and tell everyone here that these actions are productive — because they’re not,” Stoney said. “When you block law enforcement from allowing fire services to get to a home, an occupied home that has caught fire, you are not inspiring change.”

The protests Saturday began peacefully but quickly grew violent when a crowd of at least 500 people marched to Capitol Square, where they ripped down a make-shift barricade and hurled bottles and traffic cones at a line of officers blocking the entrance with riot shields.

The crowd left the area as a mass of state police officers approached, heading west to the city’s police headquarters, where the night before protesters had set a police cruiser on fire and broken out windows.

Officers had fortified the area Saturday and responded almost immediately with teargas, flashbang grenades and nonlethal rounds.

By midnight, protesters had dispersed throughout the city, lighting fires in trash bins, breaking windows and looting stores, including a state liquor store, a video game shop, and a CVS. At least two businesses burned, including a shoe store and a Rite Aid pharmacy that workers had been attempting to board up as the protest began.

The sharpest clashes broke out east of the intersection of Broad and Belvidere in Richmond’s Arts District between 1:30 and 2:30 a.m., where protesters lit numerous fires, including a large barricade of trash cans and Dumpsters. Police in riot gear once again faced off with protesters, firing teargas while protesters lit fireworks.

On Monument Avenue, home to the city’s largest Confederate memorials, protesters blanketed the massive statues with graffiti. At a memorial for Jeff Davis, the president of the Confederacy, a noose was left hanging around the bronze figure’s neck.

Down the street, a fire burned inside the headquarters of the United Daughters of the Confederacy, a group that helped erect Confederate memorials around the South and promoted the “Lost Cause” interpretation of the Civil War that “emphasized states’ rights and secession over slavery as causes of the war and was often used to further the goals of white supremacists in the twentieth century,” according to Encyclopedia Virginia.

Bystanders reported that incendiary devices of some kind were thrown through the front windows, and flames were visible to onlookers from the street and along the north side of the building.

On Sunday morning, the members of the organization cleaned up but declined to comment on the extent of the damage, saying they were told not to discuss it because it was an active arson investigation.

Stoney said peaceful protests would be allowed to continue, but under the curfew announced, anyone outside between 8 p.m. and 6 a.m. who was not travelling to work or seeking emergency services would be stopped by police.

“At this point, bad actors are hijacking the cause,” he said. “They’re taking advantage of our pain, making a mockery of George Floyd’s death and using our frustration, our anger and our heartbreak to create chaos.”

In a statement issued Sunday morning, Northam confirmed he had granted Stoney’s request for a curfew in Richmond.

“I acknowledge each of the voices crying out for justice and healing across the United States and in our Commonwealth. I affirm the deep concerns from the black community,” he wrote. “I hear you. I know your pain is real. We have all seen too many people harassed, abused and killed by law enforcement officers, in too many places, for too long — just for being black. I also know that others are exploiting this pain and are now causing violence.”

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Ned Oliver
Ned Oliver

Ned, a Lexington native, has been a fulltime journalist since 2008, beginning at The News-Gazette in Lexington, and including stints at the Berkshire Eagle, in Berkshire County, Mass., and the Times-Dispatch and Style Weekly in Richmond. He is a graduate of Bard College at Simon’s Rock, in Great Barrington, Mass. He was named Virginia's outstanding journalist for 2020 by the Virginia Press Association.

Sarah Vogelsong
Sarah Vogelsong

Sarah is Editor-in-Chief of the Mercury and previously its environment and energy reporter. She has worked for multiple Virginia and regional publications, including Chesapeake Bay Journal, The Progress-Index and The Caroline Progress. Her reporting has won awards from groups such as the Society of Environmental Journalists and Virginia Press Association, and she is an alumna of the Columbia Energy Journalism Initiative and Metcalf Institute Science Immersion Workshop for Journalists.