Police seize firearms from Black men at Virginia rally for gun rights
By Julia Harte and Julio-Cesar Chavez
RICHMOND, Virginia (Reuters) - Police stopped a black man's car and confiscated two of their guns on Monday during Virginia’s annual Lobby Day, while white gun activists freely broke local laws in the state capital, Richmond.
On a day of racist tension, black protesters denounced double standards in a state where people are free to openly carry firearms.
The Virginians meet in the capital every lobby day to solicit state lawmakers on issues of public concern. However, in recent years the day has been dominated by gun rights activists. It coincides with Martin Luther King Jr. Day, which honors the murdered civil rights hero.
Reuters witnessed the African American police stop, unlike dozens of white pro-gun activists on foot and in hundreds of trucks flying the Richmond flag, Guns Save Lives, with no police intervention .
They were stopped one block from Richmond's memorial to Confederate General Robert E. Lee less than an hour after a white anti-government boogaloo leader boasted on a megaphone that his group was violating gun and ammunition laws.
One of the black men who had confiscated handguns sparked an explosive complaint that has been described as double standards and is an example of why many African Americans oppose police.
"Everyone in town is wearing today, and you're just dragging us over," yelled a black woman, watching with a group of angry onlookers. "Greetings to Martin Luther King Day!"
Richmond Police did not immediately respond to a Reuters query about the incident and allegations of discrimination against protesters. The police said on Twitter that they had summoned a man at the location for possessing a hidden firearm without permission and that they had confiscated the weapon.
This year's Lobby Day took place in a highly polarized climate, shortly after supporters of President Donald Trump captured the US Capitol and after a year in which anti-racist and white nationalist protesters clashed in demonstrations across the United States.
Authorities were on high alert in Richmond, about 175 km south of Washington, DC, where Democratic President-elect Joe Biden will be sworn in on Wednesday, replacing Republican Trump.
The statehouse windows were boarded up, the public entrance was fenced, and police patrolled the site.
But only dozen of protesters gathered on Monday, compared with 22,000 people last year, according to police estimates.
Similarly, the nationwide pro-Trump demonstrations were largely stalled on Sunday following the deployment of the National Guard by several states.
About an hour before the black men were run over, Boogaloo leader Mike Dunn raised a megaphone along with about 10 members of his group "Last Sons of Liberty", all of them white men.
Dunn told the assembled reporters and police that his group openly carried semi-automatic rifles "in complete contradiction" to local laws and "swing magazines (ammunition magazines) with double the legal limit".
Dunn confirmed to Reuters that his group did not suffer a setback from the police.
City law allows police to ban the carrying of open guns at large public events, but they did not intervene against most gun owners on Monday.
"Virginia is and will remain an open carry state," Richmond police said in a statement.
The demonstrators, including boogaloos with their signature Hawaiian shirts, Proud Boys, and about 20 members of two black self-defense groups, were among the reporters.
Although they agreed in their support for gun rights, racist tensions were evident.
Members of the Black Lives Matter 757 and the Original Black Panthers of VA were speaking to reporters near the Richmond Statehouse when a group of proud boys flashed the "OK" hand gesture, commonly used as a white power sign.
(Reporting by Julia Harte and Julio-Cesar Chavez; writing by Daniel Trotta and Peter Szekely; editing by Clarence Fernandez, Steve Orlofsky and Nick Zieminski)
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