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Hours-long Monday protest locks up Interstate 95

Scott Elmquist
VPM News
Several people protested Israeli attacks on Gaza blocked I-95 and I-64 at the Westwood Avenue overpass Monday morning in Richmond.

Ten people have been charged with misdemeanors, according to state police.

Several protesters blocked Interstates 95 and 64 near the Bryan Park interchange for over an hour on Monday morning. Virginia State Police took 10 people into custody after at least nine chained themselves to each other and ladders to block the flow of traffic.

Law enforcement said the protesters, whose names could not be immediately verified, used a technique called the “sleeping dragon” to complicate the restraints’ removal.

In a statement emailed to several Central Virginia news outlets from an anonymous Proton Mail account called “Ides of 11,” the action was reportedly intended to “disrupt the flow of ‘business as usual’ in the heart of the Commonwealth, demanding that the U.S. empire cease all funding for the genocidal, Israeli occupation of Palestine at once.”

Since the email was unnamed and unsigned, it could not be immediately independently verified as a credible source for Monday’s protest.

Various protests in Central Virginia have cropped up since the Oct. 7 attack on Israel, in which Hamas killed 1,200 people and kidnapped hundreds. In Israel’s subsequent siege, more than 30,000 Palestinians have been killed directly by military action or indirectly by the humanitarian crisis in Gaza, which has limited access to food, water and electricity.

Richmond Police SUV and protester holding "FREE PALESTINE" banner
Scott Elmquist
VPM News
A protester carries a "Free Palestine" banner on Monday as several people are arrested for blocking a portion of the southbound lane on Interstate 64 in Richmond.

The United States has pledged millions of dollars in military aid and supplies for Israel since Oct. 7; President Joe Biden called for a ceasefire in his recent State of the Union address. According to the Ides of 11 email, protesters chose Monday for this action as an act of solidarity with Palestinian Muslims, as it coincides with the first day of Ramadan, when observant Muslims fast.

Corinne Geller, a spokesperson for Virginia State Police, said that it was amazing no one was injured on Monday.

“They put their lives at risk, as well as the motorists,” she said. “It's just a very dangerous situation to put yourselves in.”

According to Zaid Mahdawi, president of Richmond's chapter of American Muslims for Palestine (which said it was not involved in Monday’s protest), pro-Palestinian groups will use every tool, resource and action they “lawfully” can to keep public focus on the international conflict.

“People who are just going about their normal day going to work, they may not have subjected themselves to reading or listening or understanding as much as they were forced to today,” Mahdawi said.

Various law enforcement entities blocked press from access to the protest scene, though a media staging area was set up off the interstate near the Richmond Technical Center. Another group of protesters gathered at that site, chanting call-and-responses of “Free Palestine” and “No justice, no peace” with the group at the Westwood Avenue overpass.

In a social media post thanking Virginia State Police, Gov. Glenn Youngkin wrote, “It is unacceptable to block interstates, endanger the lives of Virginians and cause mayhem on our roads.”

VSP’s statement said the 10 in custody are being charged “with stopping the vehicle of another, obstructing free passage of others, unlawful assembly, and being a pedestrian on the interstate.” All of those charges are misdemeanors in Virginia.

VPM News is the staff byline for articles and podcasts written and produced by multiple reporters and editors.