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September 15, 2017

The ACLU of Virginia has issued the following statement with regard to anticipated demonstrations in Richmond on Sept. 16:

“The ACLU of Virginia commends the Richmond Police Department and other law enforcement agencies participating in the public safety planning and deployment for Sept. 16 for reaching out to the Richmond community about their plans to police the demonstrations and maintain public safety. We were pleased to have been included in those conversations and to have had the opportunity to provide input.

“Based on statements by the RPD on Thursday, however, we are concerned that aggressive policing may result in violations of demonstrators’ constitutional right to free speech.

“As Chief Durham indicated, anyone has the right to peacefully express themselves in the public right-of-way at any time. As law enforcement has acknowledged that it has no direct, reliable knowledge of what individuals or groups may participate on Saturday, there is as of yet no actionable threat to public safety. Pre-emptive statements that police will arrest and jail anyone for the slightest violation of any law seem premature, and may serve to heighten tensions between law enforcement and protesters before demonstrations even begin. We urge all officers and agencies to exercise restraint while protecting the First Amendment rights of all participants and protecting public safety, and that any law enforcement response is proportionate in nature. This includes making every reasonable effort to keep opposing groups separate but within sight and sound of each other.

“We also urge anyone considering participating in events on Saturday to do so peacefully and without weapons or firearms.

“A team of neutral ACLU of Virginia legal observers will be present on Saturday to document how the demonstrations are policed in fact and whether constitutional standards are met, as we did at the Trump protests in July 2016, at the Fight for 15 march and rally, at Dulles Airport, at the March on Monument, and in Charlottesville on July 8 and Aug. 12.”