As hundreds of protests take place across the country in response to the death of George Floyd, local governments in the Historic Triangle are preparing.
On Sunday, hundreds of protesters came out to the Williamsburg-James City County courthouse to demand justice for Floyd, a black man who died after a white officer in Minneapolis pressed his knee into Floyd’s neck.
Protesters remained peaceful and came out onto the intersection of Monticello Avenue to block traffic for nine minutes, said James City County Deputy Chief Stephen Rubino. Even with this dispersion, Rubino said the surrounding traffic and protesters were respectful and eventually allowed vehicles to pass.
That’s just the first of many planned protests in the area and while it remained peaceful, localities are preparing for potential public disruption that has been seen at other protests across the nation.
“Right now is a difficult time for a lot of people,” Rubino said. “And unfortunately the people that are coming out with the intent to steal and destroy things are complicating the issue for people who do have a valid right and message to get across.”
Rubino said James City County Police is monitoring any potential protests through social media and by contacting the organizers. He added they also work with other police departments in the Historic Triangle to monitor protests.
“We are working with our local and state partners to monitor the situation. We are certainly prepared to support as necessary,” said Williamsburg Police Chief Sean Dunn, in an email. “We certainly have a long history of supporting citizens’ constitutional right to share their view and perspective.”
During any protests, such as the one on Sunday, Rubino said the department sends additional officers to the area to monitor if the crowds start to become violent.
All officers have received routine training and there is a specialized team who have learned to analyze a crowd for signs of violence and disruptions. Rubino said officers are also prepared for verbal harassment directed at them, considering the subject.
“The officers are told to use as much restraint as possible,” Rubino said. “It’s unfortunate that the officers here in Williamsburg and James City County are the subjects of some verbal harassment but the officers just try to maintain their calm and let people vent.”
The department also makes sure to switch officers periodically so none become exhausted or overworked.
Over the past few days, Rubino said the department has been contacted by numerous locals and businesses with concerns about whether the protests will turn violent and disruptive. He said the department tells those concerned there are additional officers added to the scene and they are monitoring the situation.
We are aware of the recent rumors on social media regarding looting and violence in James City County. We have had, and continue to have, additional officers on duty throughout the County to address any issues as they may arise.
— James City County Police (@jccpolice) June 1, 2020
But Rubino said he isn’t sure how long the protests will continue or what will happen. In the meantime, the department is monitoring but he said JCCPD doesn’t inform residents on where to find accurate protest information.
While the protest on Sunday was peaceful and respectful, Rubino said it’s also the most significant demonstration he’s seen in his three decades in law enforcement.
“The size and voracity of these [protests] are most certainly the biggest and most volatile I have seen across the country as a law enforcement officer,” he said.
Chad Green, chairman of the York County Board of Supervisors, said he was unaware of any plans or preparations regarding Black Lives Matter protests.
“The county welcomes a peaceful protest as we should however we do not welcome thugs, looters and violence of any type,” he said. “Any type of violence or any type of non-peaceful protest will be dealt with accordingly.”
As for the 10-person rule, Green said enforcement falls on the health department during the coronavirus and he did not know of any information or resources for people wanting to protest.
“I am unaware of any information from the county on how to conduct a peaceful protest,” he said. “I would urge people to use good judgment and common sense.”
It’s unclear if the York-Poquoson’s Sheriff’s Office received reports of disruptions, how the department is preparing for possible protests, if they are aware of any planned protests and how will they handle protesters who violated the 10-person or less gathering rule.
Sheriff J.D. “Danny” Diggs and David Barke, uniform patrol division captain of the YPSO were not immediately available for comment.
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