Police: for us or against us? [“Against.” -ed.]

Posted: April 5, 2011 in Uncategorized

Another account of the irrational police brutality following the VCU-Butler game:

My name is Cassie Mahoney, and I am an eighteen year old freshman girl at VCU. This is my account of the police actions during the latest riot in Richmond following the VCU-Butler game as I witnessed them unfold:

Example of a rubber bullet fired by the RPD

I can honestly say that the past few weeks here at VCU have been the most fun, exhilarating weeks I have spent thus far in Richmond. Not only did all of the students unite, all of Richmond united to support our basketball team as they made their way to the Final Four in the NCAA tournament. (The most elegant cathedral plastered a huge GO RAMS sign on its pillars, a homeless man approached me to wish us luck in the game, and strangers passing on the street or driving by would yell for VCU and/or honk their horns showing their support.)

The first riot I attended was the second riot held during the day after beating Kansas State and making it to the Final Four. It was such a beautiful experience to see thousands of people (students and nonstudents alike) in the streets of Richmond celebrating together for the success of a greatly underestimated team. It is rare to get such experiences at a college in the city.

I remember commenting on how great the police were at this riot. They had blocked off the streets for us to celebrate in, and when we pushed past their borders to march down Broad Street, they even helped escort us through the traffic lights, intersections, and traffic that we utterly disregarded. They celebrated with us (some of them even high-fiving students and yelling for VCU also), yet kept us safe simultaneously. Eventually, they made us clear out of the streets, but that can only be expected.

However, the experience I had with the police at the riot after losing against Butler was completely different. Previously, I had never personally endured a significant negative experience with cops worthy of making me fully lose my respect for them. My experience Saturday night allowed me to witness first-hand the unlawful and unmerited acts of the police on many, many undeserving and innocent people trying to celebrate their basketball team’s success with good intent.

Despite the initial disappointment of losing the game this past Saturday, some friends and I decided to run to campus and celebrate, showing our continued support for the team and their accomplishments this season in breaking our school’s history. Riot police awaited our arrival lined up along the Landmark Theatre and even more awaited us on Broad Street.

Upon making it to Broad, we gathered with other friends, students, and fellow Richmonders to chant and celebrate as we had done before. Strangers were hugging strangers, happy to be celebrating with one another. It was truly beautiful to still feel the love and unity. Overall, most people at the riot were acting in good taste. Although there were admittedly a few fires, they were all small and/or contained in trash cans. The obvious and probably most effective solution would have been for the police to simply warn and confront the very FEW out-of-hand rioters creating the fires to put them out. No such warning was ever given.

SUPPOSEDLY, people were throwing beer bottles, bricks, and other objects at the police BEFORE any tear gas, pepper spray, or rubber bullets were fired (blindly) into the crowd. I did not witness a single person throw anything at a cop, and I was in the center of the action for the entire riot. (Not to mention, most people had no problem with the cops being there as they were really laid back about the first two riots and only a fool would chuck a hard object at riot police without being provoked to do so.)

Instead of allowing us to continue our celebration in the given space as they had done previously, the riot police began to push forward. (Sending mixed messages, since the streets were already blocked off for us.) I have read that the helicopters overhead were also SUPPOSEDLY directing the crowd towards Monroe Park to celebrate there instead. (Later, I met a girl who said she talked to an officer who told her we all would have been safe if we had celebrated in Monroe. My question is: why did no one know this beforehand?) The helicopters I saw above were circling around and never once did the thought cross my head to follow their lights. (Why would it? That’s stupid.) I’m not sure how the helicopters in the sky “guiding us to Monroe Park” can be justified as any real warning.

I was in one of the front rows closest to an army of riot police as they were trying to push forward with two of my best friends. While I was in the middle of chanting “VCU!” with the people surrounding me, I was hit with pepper spray and immediately blinded. With eyes closed, we all took off running. The cops, efficiently, created utter chaos. Everyone was frantic—their eyes tearing, coughing uncontrollably from the fumes, running into each other, tripping, losing their friends in the crowd, while their faces were intensely burning. I also had friends who were shot multiple times with rubber bullets and mace ammunition. One friend held up his hands with peace signs in the air and was shot for doing so. Afterwards, he went up to shake the hand of the police officer who shot him in hopes of making an impression on that officer, forcing him to realize that he had just opened fire on a completely innocent and peaceful rioter, who had no plans of retaliating against him despite being hit. (Just in case the officer had previously mistaken the universal sign for peace as some sort of threat, which is highly unlikely to say the least.) Another close friend was shot upwards of 10 times, mostly in the back, proving that he was not even facing the police when taken aim at.

My roommate and I ran back to our dorm to rinse our faces off immediately because of how powerful the burning was. (The severe stinging lasted for about one hour but slight effects were felt for the entire night—the burning on our lips lasted the longest.) After calming down a bit, we reunited with our friends outside who had just been shot. At this point, I talked to a news reporter parked on the side of Monroe Park who got tear-gassed while trying to do his job. We shared our frustrations with the police’s actions, and he promised to release the true story of how the police acted on this night to the public.

At this point, everything had calmed down. (About 10:30 or 11 PM) There were few people still on the streets (other than the riot police themselves) and Monroe Park was completely empty. Broad Street had been cleared out. After talking to the news reporter, I walked with two other girls along the edge Monroe Park (there were probably about six people total in the park at this point, including ourselves) and we were aimed at directly with two tear gas canisters. I took off running with my roommate (afraid to feel the same stinging again), but it was difficult to determine in the dark where the canister was going to land. We were able to dodge it, but the third girl (one of my best friends) got hit by the tear gas after she had already been hit with the pepper spray previously.

At this point, I was outraged that they would shoot tear gas at a small group of six innocent people just walking home to their dorm, not creating any sort of disruption. It proved that the cops were literally shooting off their weapons without any justified cause. None of us had ever experienced anything like this before, and it was truly disappointing to witness the celebration turn sour. Although it was an effective way for the cops to clear the street, it was not at all necessary. The police could have handled the riot a limitless number of ways that would have maintained my respect for them. The easiest solution is rarely the right or morally correct solution, yet they apparently decided to take the easy route. The night left many of us feeling violated and abused by the cops. We feel that they broke protocol numerous times, yet nothing will be done about it.

I hope that others will share their stories and that the police won’t be allowed to get away with such acts in the future. Instead of protecting us, they were the ones inflicting the harm on us. It isn’t common for three white girls from the suburbs to get pepper sprayed by riot police– several people can’t believe it really happened, and some are questioning what we did to deserve it: but the truth is, we didn’t deserve it. No one did.

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