June 30, 2020
A preposterous lawsuit demanding cops be banned from using tear gas to disperse lawless protestors who block city streets and interfere with traffic has been struck down by a judge who ruled this week that the restriction “unnecessarily burdens the police and puts them and the public at risk.” The case was filed in Virginia by a leftist civil rights group that claims the city of Richmond and its police department as well as the state police violated the Constitutional rights of law-breaking protestors by using tear gas and other crowd control tactics during a disruptive Black Lives Matter demonstration outside Richmond City Hall last week. The lawsuit, filed on behalf of the Virginia Student Power Network, asks the court to broadly ban the use of “chemical munitions, irritants, explosives, stun weapons, and physical-impact weapons.”
About 150 people participated in the protest which was supposed to include an overnight sit-in outside Richmond City Hall to address police violence and community advocacy, according to a local news report. Protestors also “set up an encampment, blocked the city streets, and interfered with traffic,” court documents show. After midnight police determined that it was an unlawful assembly because “conditions of activity such as sit-ins, sit-downs, blocking traffic, blocking entrances or exits of buildings that impact public safety or infrastructure.” Officers announced “multiple times” via megaphone that the blockade was an unlawful assembly and proceeded to disperse the unruly crowd by firing tear gas, flash bangs and rubber bullets. Around 12 people were arrested. Following George Floyd’s death in Minneapolis, a number of violent protests have taken place in Virginia’s capital city of Richmond. Mayor Levar Stoney, who apologized for police firing tear gas on Black Lives Matter protestors, has recognized that cops have been “hit with bricks, they’ve been hit with cinder blocks, stones and urine and other caustic material.” Nevertheless, Stoney has marched with the anti-police mob to demonstrate his solidarity.
In the complaint against the city and police, protestors allege a violation of right to assemble, violation of right to freedom of speech, and violation of state code in declaring an unlawful assembly. The leftist activists asked the court to declare that police have been operating unlawfully and to issue an order prohibiting officers from engaging in activities that supposedly violate their Constitutional rights. Among them, according to the complaint, is banning the use of tear gas. “Since the tragic murder of George Floyd and the protests against police violence that have followed, state and local police operating in Richmond have shown a pattern of violence toward protesters who speak out against systemic and anti-Black racism,” said Eden Heilman, legal director for the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Virginia, which filed the lawsuit. “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.”
The ACLU lawyer conveniently fails to mention the young people’s illegal behavior, which the court found “provides a legal basis for a declaration of unlawful assembly” by police. In her ruling, Richmond City Circuit Judge Beverly W. Snukals also denies the request for an injunction broadly blocking the use of tear gas, writing that “plaintiffs have not established that harm is certain or of such imminence that there is a clear and present need for such equitable relief.” The ruling continues: “Placing these restrictions on defendants in the form of a preliminary injunction unnecessarily burdens the police and puts them and the public at risk.” The ACLU blasted the decision, accusing the court of allowing police to use tear gas and “other tools of war” against events that police declare to be unlawful assemblies without merit. “We will continue to fight in court to bring justice to people who are speaking out against systemic, anti-Black racism by continuing to pursue this lawsuit on behalf of the Virginia Student Power Network and individual protestors,” the group declares in a statement posted on its website. The ACLU also writes that now is the time to “divest from police and reinvest in solution-oriented community programs.”