Letter: Richmond Police Harassment of Local Activists
Editor’s Note: This is an open letter written by Mo Karnage, a local activist and member of the Wingnut Anarchist Collective. Karnage also coordinates Richmond CopWatch. The views expressed do not necessarily reflect those of GayRVA.com.
To Whom It May Concern:
We the undersigned would like to express our concern that members of the Richmond Police Department may be singling out a group of Richmond activists for harassment. Specifically Richmond’s anarchist community, including the Wingnut Anarchist Collective.
The Wingnut Anarchist Collective is an anarchist organization based in Richmond’s Southern Barton Heights neighborhood on the Northside. Its members are involved in helping to feed homeless people through their support of the free weekly Food Not Bombs meal in Monroe Park, facilitating a neighborhood grocery distribution, and encouraging correspondence with prisoners. They are also active in local anti-war, civil rights, LGBTQ, and womens reproductive freedom movements.
Wingnuts also participate in a program called CopWatch, in which volunteers observe and record police activity and watch for abuses. The program has been particularly active during the First Fridays art walk, which has seen encounters between police officers and Black youth.
While participating in September’s First Friday monthly CopWatch patrol, Jeremy Hawthorne, a member of the Wingnut Anarchist Collective, was arrested and is currently awaiting trial on fallacious charges.
On Nov. 9, two Richmond anarchists, Hunter Singleton and Wingnut member Eric Scott, were arrested while marching around Monroe Park with hundreds of members and supporters of Occupy Richmond. The march took place 10 days after a massive police operation, carried out at 1:15 in the morning, that shut down the Occupy Richmond encampment at Kanawha Plaza.
On the evening of the march, people were concerned that the police, again out in large numbers, might use tear gas against the marchers. As a result, many marchers wore kerchiefs, scarves, or other cloths soaked in vinegar around their necks or faces. And yet, only Eric and Hunter were arrested, handcuffed, and charged with wearing a mask in public. Video footage of the arrests show no resistance on the part of Eric or Hunter.
All of these cases carry felony charges, which following a conviction would severely curtail the accused’s rights and make finding employment an even more difficult prospect in the current job market.
Our concern is that at least some members of the Richmond Police Department may have decided that the Wingnut and anarchist activists are fair game for harassment. Given the volatility of the times – high unemployment, deep anxieties over the economy and growing concerns about police conduct, as in the department’s overreaction to the Final Four street gatherings around Virginia Commonwealth University, we the undersigned organizations and concerned individuals of the Richmond area hereby call on Richmond Mayor Dwight Jones and Richmond Police Chief Bryan Norwood to make it clear to all members of the Richmond Police Department that discriminatory treatment of members of the public, regardless of political beliefs or affiliations, will not be tolerated.
Photo by Gillan Ludlow
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