PORTSMOUTH, Va. (WAVY) — Following calls made by Joe Biden — the Democratic nominee for president — to prosecute those who choose to “protest” by destroying property, his surrogate and former governor of Virginia says that shouldn’t apply to what occurred at Porstmouth’s Confederate monument.
Former Gov. Terry McAuliffe (D-VA) made the comments Tuesday night when he attended a drive-up event at Grove Community Family Life Center in support of State Sen. Louise Lucas (D-Portsmouth) and others charged in connection with a destructive demonstration at the monument that almost turned deadly back on June 10.
Those in attendance referenced the “Portsmouth 19” — referring to Lucas and the 13 others originally charged by police last month, as well as the additional five other people police charged on Monday.
Lucas was among eight charged with two felonies: conspiracy to commit a felony and injury to a monument in excess of $1,000.
“I pray to God they drop the charges against the individuals because it’s just not right,” McAuliffe said to the crowd of over 100 gathered in Portsmouth.
Police body camera video from June 10 shows Lucas telling officers that protesters were going to “paint” the more than century-old monument and said, “you can’t stop them.”
She claims City Manager Dr. Lydia Pettis Patton gave permission for protesters to be on monument property, however, covering a monument in any way was prohibited in any way until July 1. Lucas voted to approve a state law to give localities the authority to move the monument months earlier.
On Tuesday, McAuliffe chalked that up to Lucas making “good trouble” in reference to the late civil rights icon Rep. John Lewis.
While body camera video shows Lucas at the scene when spray painting began, she wasn’t present when physical dismantling of the monument began later that evening.
“Why is it only here in Portsmouth these charges were brought, that’s the question we need to ask,” McAuliffe said, bringing up vandalism to the Confederate monument in neighboring Norfolk that did not result in criminal charges.
However, others charged by Portsmouth Police were physically on the monument. Historic bronze statues of Confederate soldiers were beheaded and dismantled. Several times, those on the monument tried to light it on fire while officers looked on.
On Monday, former Vice President Biden spoke out against violence and destruction seen in the name of “protests” across the nation.
“The senseless violence of looting, and burning and destruction of property … I want to make something absolutely clear … Rioting is not protesting. Looting is not protesting. Setting fires is not protesting,” Biden said. “It’s lawlessness, plain and simple. And those who do it should be prosecuted.”
McAuliffe, who came out as an early supporter of Biden’s, said he agrees. But what’s happened in Portsmouth is different, he added.
“If people are going into damage … try and take advantage and co-op the black lives matter, are there to hurt people, are there to go in and hurt courthouses or whatever it may be, yes, charges should be brought against them. That is not what we are talking about here. These are Confederate monuments,” McAuliffe said. “Clearly this is about historical issues. There has been a nationwide effort to have these statues come down. Here in Portsmouth, that statue should have come down … this is a national moment to take these statues down to end the racial inequality, the racial disparities and to send the right message.”
The demonstration that day was started by the local NAACP chapter in an effort to push the city council to act more quickly on the removal process.
The monument itself has been nearly completely removed from its longtime location in Olde Towne. It comes about a month after the Portsmouth council voted unanimously to relocate it.
Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax (D-Va.) also attended Tuesday’s rally and called for the charges to be dismissed.
“What you saw was really a targeting of elected leaders,” Fairfax said. “What I’m worried about is a precedent of targeting African American leaders with charges in order to exact political revenge or to take them out of office.”
Questions have been raised about the timing of the charges. Lucas was served warrants the day before she was to be in Richmond for a special legislative session on criminal justice reform.
Portsmouth Police Chief Angela Greene originally said her department’s investigation began following the conclusion of the Virginia State Police accident investigation on July 22, but state police said that is not true.
Lucas and her supporters have called for Greene to be fired for her handling of the situation. Last Monday, Vice Mayor Lisa Lucas-Burke — Sen. Lucas’ daughter — was charged with misdemeanors after she publicly called for the firing of the police chief, an act that allegedly violates the city code.
Sen. Lucas and the 13 others are due in court on Sept. 4.
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