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Protesters Defy Order To Steer Clear of Lee Statue After Dark

Protesters occupy the Lee Circle defying state orders
SLIDESHOW: Protesters occupy the area around the Robert E. Lee statue, defying state orders (Coleman Jennings / VPM News).

The Commonwealth of Virginia closed off the property around the Robert E. Lee monument in Richmond overnight, citing public safety concerns. But the order didn’t stop protesters from gathering there Monday night.  

Virginia officials announced earlier in the evening that there would be no public access to the property surrounding Richmond’s largest confederate monument from sunset to sunrise, indefinitely. 

Many protesters were determined to remain on the property anyway. 

“We’re just going to occupy the space and do as best we can to not have it taken from us,” said a protester named Yehshai, who declined to use her last name for fear of being targeted by police. “This is a symbol. It’s the epicenter of everything that’s going on in the city and the change that needs to be brought.”

State officials with the Department of General Services and local and state law enforcement said in a joint press release they are concerned about the safety of protesters and people who live in the neighborhood. 

“As a result of increasing public safety risks and numerous legal violations, state and local law enforcement will be enforcing state laws, city ordinances and the regulations for use of the Lee Monument property,” the statement read. “These steps are necessary to provide a safe and secure area for individuals who want to express their First Amendment rights peacefully, as well as general visitors to the site, City of Richmond residents and property owners.”

Police cruisers were parked about a block away from the statue in each direction. 

Most of the crowd dispersed shortly after 10 p.m. following a massive thunderstorm. They announced plans to come back on Tuesday.  

Protests continued at another location, however. Citing 'sit ins' and traffic obstructions, Richmond Police declared an Unlawful Assembly at 12:42 a.m outside Richmond City Hall where protesters had set up tents earlier in the day. Police used riot shields, chemical sprays, gas, and other projectiles to force protesters out of the area by 1:44 p.m.

Traffic was blocked Tuesday morning by the statue, as DGS says crews were securing the concrete barriers and posting signs with the newly declared rules.

Whittney Evans is VPM News’ features editor.
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