Police in Richmond, Virginia have formally retracted a two-year-old disinformation campaign that they used justify attacking demonstrators with tear gas during protests in the summer of 2020.
In a thread of tweets late on the afternoon of July 1 2022 — a Friday going into a holiday weekend — the department admitted that officers did not need to use the chemicals to defend themselves against “violent protestors” who had gathered at the site of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee on June 1 2020 as part of a series of protests against police brutality following the murder of George Floyd in Minnesota days earlier:
In a social media post on June 1, 2020, using the account @RichmondPolice, the City of Richmond Police stated “To our peaceful protestors: We are sorry we had to deploy gas near the Lee Monument…
Some RPD officers in that area were cut off by violent protestors. The gas was necessary to get them to safety.” To our peaceful protestors we apologize: this statement was false and is retracted.
There were no RPD officers cut off by violent protesters at the Lee Monument. There was no need for gas at Lee Monument to get RPD officers to safety.
“For far too long, the city has hidden what its officers did that day. For far too long, the city has made excuses. No more,” attorney Thomas H. Roberts said in a statement following the retraction.
Roberts represented six demonstrators who were at the monument when police used the tear gas, claiming at the time to be doing so in self-defense, a claim that social media users immediately debunked; one particular clip showed an officer running toward protesters several feet away and spraying them:
The retraction by police — posted shortly before the beginning of the 4th of July holiday weekend in the U.S. — was part of a settlement originally reached in February 2022; it also calls for “protest artifacts” collected at the site of various demonstrations near the monument (an area commonly referred to as Lee Circle) to be donated to the Black History Museum and Cultural Center of Virginia.
The settlement also requires that city officials turn over video and documents related to the incident to the state Library of Virginia. The Richmond Times-Dispatch reported that according to interim City Attorney Haskell C. Brown III, the city “did not have a timeline for doing so.”
Mayor Levar Stoney’s office did not return a call seeking comment on when the city would follow through on that requirement.