Some Richmond residents have objected to what they call “police intimidation” at city council meetings.
Richmond city council meetings are notoriously contentious. On July 23rd, following a disturbance by protesters, more than 125 people were removed from the chambers by police officers. Since July, the RPD has had a larger presence at these meetings. Richmond resident Don Gosney counted 13 officers at the city council meeting on July 30th.
Beginning today, RPD spokesperson Sergeant Nicole Abetkov says officers will return to routine operations, which means two officers and one sergeant will attend each meeting. The sergeant will no longer read aloud the rules at the beginning of each meeting. This statement has included a recital of the consequences—including arrest or citation—for those who break them.
But, the RPD says its officers will continue to pass out printed rules of conduct to every attendee. “That way no one can say they weren’t told the rules,” Abetkov says.
Since the July 23rd meeting, a handful of residents have used the public comment portion of the meeting to speak out against the increased police presence. “Her [Mayor Gayle McLaughlin’s] selective enforcement of using armed police officers is one of those things that makes some people feel as if their elected representatives may be abusing their authority to silence people who disagree with them,” Gosney says.
McLaughlin writes in an email that the RPD officers are just there to maintain order. “The rules were repeatedly disregarded at our Council meetings by a few, highly vocal members of the public who were disrupting the meetings in a major way and disallowing the democratic rights of the greater public to be upheld.”
“Well, unfortunately, the way the mayor conducts the meetings denies individuals their free speech rights,” Councilmember Nat Bates says. “It’s a dictatorship—if you don’t fall in line and jump to the music of the mayor and RPA [Richmond Progressive Alliance] you are thrown out of council chambers, and we have recesses and this type of thing.”
“In all reality, everyone has a fair opportunity to have a public safe place,” Abetkov says. For now though, she says the meetings should return to normal, “If stuff starts popping up again we’ll reevaluate.”