There's growing frustration over Virginia Governor Ralph Northam's executive order closing non-essential businesses until May 8.
“Who is he to determine what is essential in our society and what is not? I believe the liquor stores are open. Is that essential? There are a lot of things that are open that many people don’t consider essential,” said protester Marco Caceres, from Shenandoah.
About 30 people, including families, gathered inside Capitol Square near the Governor’s Mansion.
Even more ended up outside the gates after Capitol Police shut down the public space, barring more people from entering. Capitol Police said they shut it down to disrupt an unpermitted event that could have posed a risk to the public amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
The "Reopen Virginia Protest" was organized by three groups: ReOpen Virginia, End the Lockdown VA and Virginians Against Excessive Quarantine.
Both Capitol and Virginia State Police were on hand and had to remind the protesters to maintain social distancing guidelines since they said the groups encouraged participants to hug and share food during the event.
“The reason why I’m not wearing a mask is that I’m not going to have someone tell me I have to,” said protester Benjamin Wright, who lives in Richmond.
Wright says if people want to voluntarily stay inside, great. But the government should not be the ones dictating that. Organizers of the event want government restrictions lifted by May 1.
"It seems ridiculous to me that a lot of businesses are closed. A lot of my friends who own their businesses are in risk of going out of business over this,” said Wright.
No arrests were made and organizers say they hope to pull off another event like this if the governor doesn't budge.
“You’re trying to supposedly cure a problem but you’re doing more damage in my opinion than you are trying to cure the problem by forcing people to stay in their homes, not be able to earn a living, you know isolation kills, too,” said Caceres.
In a statement today, the governor’s spokesperson said Northam is making policy based on data, science and public health. He’s grateful to the millions of Virginians who are taking this seriously and working to protect themselves, their families and their communities.
Capitol Police and the Department of General Services will continue to monitor gatherings at the square and will take action when needed to protect the public.
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