PORTSMOUTH, Va. (WAVY) — A Virginia senator is calling for the immediate firing of the Portsmouth police chief following a protest that resulted in a person being hospitalized with serious injuries and the destruction of a Confederate monument.
Sen. Louise Lucas told 10 On Your Side that she believes Portsmouth Police Chief Angela Greene “abdicated her responsibility to maintain peace and failed to uphold the law” during the protests after demonstrators began to vandalize and destroy the monument. Lucas said that Greene should be fired “immediately” by Portsmouth City Manager Dr. Lydia Pettis-Patton.
The protest began peacefully on Tuesday night when demonstrators, including the Portsmouth NAACP, gathered at the monument and covered it with sheets and plastic bags.
The demonstrators called for the removal of the monument, which has been sitting on Court Street in the middle of downtown for 127 years.
Since 2017, Portsmouth elected officials and community members have been discussing the removal of the monument, and new legislation was recently passed that will make that legal on July 1. Portsmouth City Council plans to host a public hearing on the removal of the monument later this summer.
The protest continued peacefully on Wednesday, with members of the Portsmouth NAACP, including President James Boyd and Vice President Louie Gibbs, spending hours in front of the statue calling for it to be removed from the public street.
NAACP member Onyx Hicks said that Greene gave the NAACP permission to be at the monument and within the gates around it as long as there was not any permanent damage done to the structure.
Tensions began to rise just before noon when Boyd and Gibbs were arrested by Portsmouth police officers and charged with trespassing while standing within the gate surrounding the monument. The men were taken from the scene of the monument in handcuffs and brought to the Portsmouth City Jail before being released.
Lucas, who represents Portsmouth in the Virginia General Assembly, told 10 On Your Side that she got a call Wednesday afternoon informing her that Boyd and Gibbs were arrested. She went to the Confederate monument and spoke with protesters and police officers. Her interaction with the crowd was filmed and posted on her Facebook page.
The videos show Lucas telling the police officers and the crowd that the monument is city-owned and that peaceful protesters cannot be arrested.
“They cannot arrest them because the city owns this property,” Lucas said in the video. “Come July 1, they can take it down anyway. So, these police officers cannot arrest them for being on city property. So, I’m going to stand right here and see what’s going to happen.”
10 On Your Side spoke with Lucas about the videos and what she told protesters and police. She said she was at the monument for about 45 minutes in the early afternoon. She pointed to the videos, which showed her telling police not to arrest peaceful protesters.
“I said on camera, ‘Look these people are not going to be arrested again, and if you don’t believe me it, call Dr. Patton,'” Lucas said. “Within a matter of minutes, Chief Greene was there and I said the same thing.”
Lucas said she never told police to ignore vandalism or property destruction. She said she was advocating for Boyd and Gibbs and warning officers not to arrest other demonstrators who were protesting peacefully on public property.
“That Confederate monument is nothing more than a symbol of racism to be rubbed in the faces of the black community every time we have to see it,” Lucas said. “It ain’t nothing but a symbol of slavery and racism. Had they done what we tried to do in 2017 and had it moved to the cemetery, this wouldn’t be an issue today, but they wanted to be so bent on bringing pain to the black community that they insisted on it being there anyway.”
“I didn’t want it defaced. I wanted to put it in the cemetery where it belongs — dead,” Lucas said.
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Lucas left the scene of the monument around 2:25 p.m. She went into a meeting at her office and worked for the remainder of the day.
Later in the afternoon, protesters spray-painted the monument as police looked on.
The demonstration lasted the afternoon and into the night, when it became more destructive. The protesters took hammers to the monument. They successfully decapitated all of the stone Confederate soldiers statues that are part of the monument. They also pushed an entire Confederate solider statue off of the monument and into the crowd, hitting a protester named Chris Green and seriously injuring him.
Police did not intervene in the demonstration until Green was injured.
10 On Your Side spoke with the police chief after the protest and asked about the lack of police intervention. She said that she never gave an order to police to ignore the destruction of property, but that an elected official directed the officers to let protesters vandalism the structure.
Greene wouldn’t identify who that elected official is at the time, but during a Portsmouth City Council meeting on Thursday night Councilman Bill Moody and Vice Mayor Lisa Lucas-Burke both addressed the chief’s statement and community buzz that Lucas directed police not to intervene.
Moody said that Lucas’ videos should be submitted to the Virginia State Police as part of their investigation into Green’s injuries and the circumstances that led up to him being hurt.
Lucas-Burke spoke in defense of Lucas, who is her mother. She said that Lucas went to the monument to support protesters and that she did not give orders to police to not intervene in vandalism and property destruction.
Lucas-Burke said that Lucas does not have the power to tell Greene how to police the city. She said that Lucas should not be blamed for the vandalism and the Portsmouth Police Department’s actions — or lack thereof — during the demonstration on Wednesday night.
“The orders to the chief of police come from the city manager,” Lucas-Burke said.