Another double standard? Police seize firearms from Black men, but not whites, at Lobby Day
Reuters | 1/21/2021, 6 p.m.
Police stopped a car of Black men and confiscated two of their guns at Virginia’s annual “Lobby Day” on Monday, while white gun rights activists defied local laws unimpeded in the state capital of Richmond.
In a day with racial tensions on display, Black protesters denounced what they called a double standard in a state where people are free to openly carry firearms.
Virginians converge on the State Capitol each Lobby Day to petition state legislators on issues of public interest. But the day, which coincides with the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. holiday honoring the slain civil rights leader, has been dominated by gun rights activists in recent years. Last year, about 22,000 people carrying an array of weapons, including military assault-style rifles, swarmed the area around the Capitol Square and Downtown streets demanding that state lawmakers put an end to enacting tougher gun control laws.
Reuters witnessed Monday’s police stop of the African-Americans, which stood in contrast to dozens of white pro-gun activists on foot and in hundreds of trucks that drove through Richmond’s streets flying “Guns Save Lives” flags without police interceding.
The car was stopped one block from Richmond’s six-story monument to Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee and less than an hour after a white, anti-government Boogaloo Boys leader boasted on a megaphone that his group was violating gun and ammunition laws.
One of the Black men to have handguns confiscated unleashed an expletive-laden complaint, calling it a double-standard and an example of why many African-Americans resent the police.
“Everybody in the city is carrying today, and you’re only pulling us over,” yelled a Black woman who was looking on with a group of enraged bystanders. “Shout-out to Martin Luther King Day!”
Richmond Police did not immediately respond to a Reuters query about the incident and about the protesters’ allegation of discrimination. On Twitter, police said they had issued a summons to one man at that scene for possessing a concealed firearm without a permit and had confiscated the gun.
About an hour before the Black men were pulled over, Boogaloo Boys leader Mike Dunn hoisted a megaphone alongside about 10 members of his “Last Sons of Liberty” group, all white men.
Mr. Dunn told the assembled reporters and police that his group was openly carrying semi-automatic rifles “in pure defiance” of local laws, and “rocking mags (ammunition magazines) with double the legal limit.”
Mr. Dunn confirmed to Reuters that his group faced no police blowback.
City law allows police to ban openly carrying guns at large public events, but they did not intervene against most gun owners on Monday.
“Virginia is and remains an open carry state,” Richmond Police said in a statement.
The demonstrators, including Boogaloo Boys sporting their trademark Hawaiian shirts, Proud Boys and about 20 members of two Black self-defense groups, were outnumbered by reporters.
Despite being united in their support for gun rights, racial tensions were visible.
Members of the Black Lives Matter 757 and Original Black Panthers of VA were talking to reporters near the Richmond statehouse when a group of Proud Boys walked by flashing the “OK” hand gesture commonly used as a white power sign.
This year’s Lobby Day took place in a highly polarized climate, coming just 12 days after supporters of President Trump seized the U.S. Capitol and after a year in which anti-racist and white nationalist demonstrators clashed at protests across the United States.
Authorities were on high alert in Richmond and other capital cities during the weekend after FBI warnings that armed protesters were targeting state houses in spillover from the attack in Washington. Flyers circulating on social media in Richmond called for an armed rally on Jan. 17 ahead of the Lobby Day event, and on inauguration day, Jan. 20.
Windows at the statehouse were boarded up, the public entrance was fenced off and police patrolled the grounds. But only dozens of protesters assembled on Monday, compared to last year’s crowd of 22,000, as estimated by police.
Similarly, pro-Trump demonstrations nationwide on Sunday largely fizzled after several states deployed the National Guard.