DV Archive

Decision Virginia Archive 8/08- 7/12

Capitol Police Chief explains response to pro-choice vigil

with 5 comments

It has been a General Assembly session filled with passion, anger and angst. Protests and counter protests have become a regular occurrence and the responsibility of keeping the peace falls with the Virginia Capitol Police force.

It hasn’t been easy. The Capitol Police force successfully managed several protests both for and against controversial bills dealing with abortion. Abortion is a topic that often brings out very heated emotions. Who can forget the anger that was unleashed in the moments after a Senate committee passed the “personhood” bill and a bill to require ultrasounds before abortions?  Our photographer Nathan McCann captured this moment of a protestor being held back by a member of the Capitol Police.

The Capitol Police were called into duty again Monday night. A group quickly organized a protest of the pending “ultrasound before abortion” bill and asked supporters to gather in front of behind the Governor’s mansion to voice their displeasure.  Not long after the group of 50-100 protestors gathered, Capitol Police quickly came in and asked the group to leave Capitol Square.

The protestors moved to a new location near the mansion, but off Capitol Square grounds. The next day, several voiced their frustration with being asked to move. Well known liberal blogger J.C. Wimore wrote about his displeasure on this blog and wrote a lengthy post on “The Richmonder”. Wilmore said the way Capitol and State Police handled the situation made him “really, deeply, viscerally angry.”

Note: I misunderstood the path of the vigil in my discussions with Pike and Whiting. Vigil participants silently walked by the General Assembly building on Broad Street and then assembled behind the Executive mansion on Governor’s Street. At no point did they enter or attempt to set up in Capitol Square. That was my mistake and I apologize for the incorrect information.

Capitol Police Chief, Col. Anthony “Steve” Pike said the response by his officers was appropriate and designed to protect not only visitors to Capitol Square that have nothing to do with the protest, but the protestors themselves. Pike said that it is his squad’s responsibility to enforce the regulations set out by the Virginia Department of General Services, which operates the Capitol grounds. He said this group, made up of various representatives from different women’s rights organizations, did not apply for a permit, despite efforts by his department to reach out to the group ahead of time.

“The regulations are pretty clear,” said Pike. “We want to make sure that everyone has the opportunity to have their voice heard. But in order to protect visitors to the Capitol and those wishing to assemble, we must follow those regulations.”

Those regulations require the protest to occur near the Capitol Bell Tower. It also restricts how long the event can take place.

Whitney Whiting was one of several organizers of the event and admitted the group did not even attempt to obtain a permit. She said their goal was to have a peaceful protest, that would garner the attention of lawmakers in control of the issues they were concerned about. Chief among them, Gov. Bob McDonnell.

Whiting said she understood why the group was pushed out of Capitol Square, but wonders why it required the force it did. Note: In the comments section below Whitney Whiting explains that she understood  that the police wanted to “ensure safety.” 

Whiting and Wilmore both describe seeing police in full riot gear, and in numbers that were not proportional to their peaceful gathering.

“It was surprising that they would bring out such a big force,” she said. “It was a little intimidating.”

Pike agreed, the protest was peaceful and those in attendance were cooperative with his officers. He explained that in addition to Capitol Police, the State Police was on hand guarding the Executive Mansion. The Virginia State Police handles all protection of the governor and his family. The governor has no say in the level of that protection.

He also said that the perceived heavy level of force was not there to keep the protestors in line, but to prevent a serious incident if a counter protest were to erupt.

“We heard chatter all day about this group or that group potentially showing up at the Capitol,” said Pike. “We don’t want to see anyone get hurt, so we take all necessary precautions.”

Whiting said that despite their imposing look, the Capitol and State Police forces were polite and were not verbally or physically threatening. She was surprised they were ask to turn off their electronic “candles”.  Regardless, she hopes the overall message was received.

As for Pike, he encouraged anyone with questions to get in contact with his office or the Department of General Services so that they can help coordinate any demonstrations. He expressed his disappointment about the perception left behind by the incident and was emphatic that not one of his officers was there to interrupt or intimidate those expressing their first amendment rights.

Written by Ryan Nobles

February 28, 2012 at 7:46 pm

5 Responses

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  1. Wow Nobles, maybe the capitol police will print this out and frame it on their wall. Way to show what side you’re on! Did you owe one of them a favor or something?

    First of all, the protesters were never pushed anywhere. Where we held the CANDLELIGHT VIGIL (i.e. not a protest) was where we had planned to hold it all along and where we originally assembled. We cooperated with the police the entire time, despite being gazed down on by menacing SWAT officers.

    Why don’t you mention that there was a SWAT team, over 30 officers complete with riot shields and riot gear hidden inside the Patrick Henry Building, and at least 20 more outside in uniform surrounding us or on bikes? The “protesters” were, on average, middle-aged women holding candles. Does that warrant an armored vehicle?!

    Even if counter protesters did show up (of which NONE were reported to me and I’m pretty well connected), does it really take THAT many officers to handle the situation?! How about you rewrite this garbage and replace it with some factual information?

    william

    February 29, 2012 at 12:36 am

    • i concur. real journalism means going to events. we NEVER were on capitol grounds first and then asked to leave. we were on the public sidewalk. Again you would know that if you were a real journalist but alas you are just a capitol police loving blogger. let me also remind you that (you are obviously conservative so you SHOULD have respect for the constitution but that is rarely the case these days) that capitol grounds rules are anti constitutional. You DO NOT need a permit to petition your government for a redress of grievances. It is the very first amendment. Permits are just another authoritarian hoop. More tricks to make regular citizens look bad. tax paying constituents should be allowed on capitol grounds and time they please because they pay for it and they put those people in office. THINK HARDER.

      helena

      February 29, 2012 at 1:09 am

  2. Hi Ryan,

    I’d appreciate if you would amend your post to reflect what I reported to you earlier today over the phone – namely, that despite different ideas for locations, the organizers of this event *chose*, of our volition, to hold our peaceful candlelight vigil on the sidewalk along Governor St. – a public street. We gathered there as planned, did not block sidewalks, marched down Broad and 9th, and walked single-file passed the General Assembly Building to reassemble along the same sidewalk along Governor’s St and hold a very successful “speak out” demonstration. I never remarked that I understood why we “were pushed out of Capitol Square.” I said that I understood the perspective of the police wanting to ensure safety, but that, given our very peaceful demonstrations up until this point, the fact that it was a candlelight vigil, and that the tone was somber and peaceful, SWAT teams and riot police did indeed seem excessive.

    You started out your story with a brief, unplanned, isolated incident, failing to mention the other two very successful and peaceful demonstrations held at the Capitol in the last week – the first being the silent protest we organized for Monday, Feb 20th, and the second being the spontaneous assembly of women on Thursday Feb 23rd when we decided to line the walkways again to applaud the legislators who voted in favor of women’s rights and give the silent treatment to those who voted against us.

    Again, I’d appreciate accurate reporting on this matter, as I’m sure would everyone else involved in the events that took place, and hopefully the station you claim to represent on this blog would appreciate accurate reporting as well. Sincerely, Whitney Whiting

    Whitney Whiting

    February 29, 2012 at 1:04 am

  3. I appreciate the thoughtful comments left by those who attended the vigil. I apologize for misunderstanding the path of the vigil and have amended the post to reflect that.

    However- The goal of this post was not to support or to defend the actions of anyone involved with the event on Monday night. The goal was to report what occurred as fairly and accurately as possible.
    Many of the complaints issued in these comments reiterate points made in this story.

    Among them, police dressed in riot gear and the perception of excessive force. I even posted a link to a partisan blog that outlines the specific grievances of the assembled group.

    I gave the Police Chief the opportunity to respond to those complaints. I do not pass judgement on him or those who attended the vigil. You are free to be upset with the process, the regulations or the way it was handled. That is your decision. My job is to report the story accurately as possible.

    I once again apologize for the misunderstanding..

    Ryan Nobles

    February 29, 2012 at 9:04 am

  4. Sorry women, it doesn’t look like a CANDLELIGHT vigil to me? Just sayin….

    brianna

    March 1, 2012 at 1:11 pm


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