Richmond police are going to arrest first and ask questions later at Virginia’s second recent Confederate rally around a Robert E. Lee statue Saturday.
Police will arrest anyone wearing a mask at the “Protect The General Robert E. Lee Monument Rally,” Richmond Police Chief Alfred Durham said, according to the Richmond Times-Dispatch.
The New Confederate States of America, the organization hosting the rally, created a Facebook page for the event that has fewer than 100 confirmed attendees, but more than 600 people indicate interest in going.
Police are in a “code red” situation for the event because of the deadly violence at a Charlottesville rally in August between factions of white supremacists and Antifa radicals. While police said they expect Saturday’s rally to be far smaller than Charlottesville’s, they aren’t taking any chances.
“If someone has a mask on, we’re not asking them to take it off, they’re being arrested,” Durham said at a Thursday conference. “While the law states and allows the open carrying in public of firearms, the law does not allow for the threatening or menacing of individuals who are handling such weapons, and if any weapons laws are violated, we will be making arrests.”
Many Richmond residents called on police to bar the gathering or at least take any weapons the protesters or potential counter-protesters might bring. Police said they had no authority to do either, however.
“A lot of folks ask: Why is the Richmond Police Department allowing folks to protest?” Durham said. “Ladies and gentleman, the right to assemble is a constitutional right. You don’t need a permit.”
Richmond Mayor Levar Stoney backed Durham’s stance, issuing a warning to protesters and counter-protesters alike.
“I don’t care whether you live here or you’re coming here, but bottom line, we expect you to obey the law, because I guarantee you we will enforce it,” Stoney said. “And if you do not respect our city, law enforcement will lock you up.”