'You need to open the state back up’: Protesters urge Northam to reopen Virginia’s economy
RICHMOND, Va. (WWBT) - Protesters are descended on downtown Richmond demanding that Governor Ralph Northam reopen Virginia’s economy.
The demonstration included cars and people on foot circling Capitol Square who are against the extended closure of non-essential businesses.
There’s mounting frustration over Northam’s executive orders keeping some businesses closed and asking people to stay at home during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“I’m tired of them stepping all over the constitution. I’m done,” said protester Frank Butler.
"It’s our right to assembly and it’s our right to free speech," said protester Jason Roberge.
“Our rights don’t come from government, they come from God,” said protester Leon Benjamin.
Over the course of about three hours, droves of people both on foot and in vehicles descended on downtown Richmond with signs and plenty of honking horns.
“Virginia is a right to work state, you know? We own small businesses. We’ve got... poverty kills. The virus, they’re inflating the numbers,” said an unidentified driving protester.
Meanwhile, the governor’s office is re-iterating that Northam will continue to make public policy based on data and science.
“You need to open the state back up and you need to get yourself out of office,” said another unidentified driving protester.
The group "Reopen Virginia" put on the event.
A spokesperson says the medical community is too focused on the virus and more attention should be paid to the economy.
David Britt says the group fears more businesses will buckle under prolonged restrictions, and never be able to reopen again.
“We’re all here to support the idea that if we continue to go with stay at home as long as the governor has ordered, that we’re going to basically destroy the economy of Virginia and the society of Virginia,” said Britt.
The group is also concerned with rising domestic violence and mental health issues spurred by the pandemic.
But also in the crowd was a doctor from Winchester who says the scene here is not representative of how many feel.
"The truth is far more people disagree with opening the country but they're not coming out to protest because they are at home doing the right thing," said Dr. Erich Bruhn.
Some in the group plan to be back down there May 1 for another protest.
The governor’s office also said Northam understands Virginians are suffering but he says protests like Wednesday’s won’t push him to open the state any quicker.
“The Governor is eager to ease restrictions as soon as it is possible to do so safely. As is clear from our case counts and the President’s own guidelines, we are not there yet. Governor Northam is grateful to the millions of Virginians who are doing the right thing and protecting the health of themselves, their families, and their communities,” a statement said.
Northam is set to hold another briefing on the state's COVID-19 response Friday.
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