Eviction protest turns violent as crowd is pepper-sprayed by deputies; courthouse damaged

Updated: Jul. 1, 2020 at 9:59 PM EDT
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RICHMOND, Va. (WWBT) - A group of people outside the John Marshall Courthouse protesting evictions were pepper-sprayed by Richmond City Sheriff’s Deputies on Wednesday.

Several organizations and community members gathered peacefully outside the courthouse to protest the resumption of the eviction process.

An eviction freeze was lifted on Monday after it had been put in place originally due to the COVID-19 pandemic and the financial impacts of it.

“Housing is a human right,” said one of the speakers during the rally.

With Richmond ranked second in the country for evictions, several organizations and community members continue to demand change.

“There absolutely needs to be rent control in the city of Richmond and throughout the state of Virginia that protects the tenants so they don’t have to spend their entire income on rent,” said Cole Blisset a member of the Richmond Tenants Union. “We literally have families who are making choices between buying food, medicine or paying rent.”

“Being a full-time student and then having to pay rent by myself on $8.50 it’s very evident how nearly impossible that is to do,” said Taylor Maloney, a member of the Virginia Student Power Network.

The Richmond Tenants Union was just one of the organizing groups who said evictions and rental hikes are jeopardizing livelihoods in the city.

Protesters also said the public needs to acknowledge the impacts evictions have on Black families and other minority communities.

“We cannot allow the violence of eviction to continue,” the Richmond Tenants Union said. “Mass eviction, mass displacement, and gentrification coexist in a feedback loop that harms Black communities.”

The group also marched to the Executive Mansion at the state Capitol demanding Governor Ralph Northam extend the eviction freeze during the COVID-19 pandemic.

That freeze was lifted Monday allowing landlords to resume the court process.

“In Richmond, in the next two weeks alone there are about 1,500 eviction cases in the courts,” Blisset said. “We wanted to show up and say that’s unacceptable.”

Many in the group feel the $50 million through the federal CARES Act which will be dispersed through the Virginia Rent and Mortgage Relief Program is not enough money for suffering Virginia families.

“It’s also very conditional,” Maloney said. “It’s excluding a lot of people; I know there are sub-leasers, what about undocumented folk who have just as much a right to affordable housing as we do.”

The group also stopped by Richmond City Hall to voice their demands.

“Fight, fight, fight, housing is a right,” they chanted.

However, things turned violent upon the group’s return to the courthouse.

At least two people entered the building in an attempt to stage a sit-in. Richmond City Sheriff’s Deputies appeared to wrestle them on the ground.

Other protesters then tried to force their way inside, shouting “let them go”, which is when deputies deployed some form of pepper spray on the crowd, per an NBC12 reporter on scene.

Some of the people in the crowd responded by throwing water bottles at the deputies. A possible brick was then thrown through the courthouse window.

The crowd quickly dispersed afterward, and the courthouse was shut down for the remainder of the day.

“We are reviewing the incident and the actions of the officers as such relates to the events of today,” the Richmond City Sheriff’s Office said

Sheriff Antionette Irving did arrive at the courthouse to view the damage herself.

Officials said two people were arrested in connection to the events at the courthouse.

As for injuries, there is no word at this time, however, several protesters appeared to be affected by the spray utilized by deputies.

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