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Richmond braces for potential impact from post-election protests

Organizations and residents in Richmond are bracing for potential activity related to the U.S. presidential election results. 

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By India Jones

Organizations and residents in Richmond are bracing for potential activity related to the U.S. presidential election results.

Richmond City officials said they will work with local and state partners to ensure public safety during and after the election.

“We encourage all residents to peacefully participate in our democracy and observe public health and public safety protocols in exercising their rights,” city officials said Monday in a statement.

Virginia Commonwealth University closed parking decks on Monroe Park Campus in Richmond from Monday night until Wednesday morning due to “potential activity on campus surrounding Election Day.” The closure excludes the West Main Street Parking Deck where temporary parking accommodations are available.

Protests have erupted around the nation, including Richmond, since May. Demonstrators called for social justice and police reform after George Floyd died in police custody. Floyd’s arrest was viewed around the world, with reaction to the officer kneeling on Floyd’s neck for almost 8 minutes sparking months of protest. People also flooded the streets calling for justice in the shooting of Breonna Taylor, who died when police opened fire while serving a warrant. Those deaths and others fueled a sustained call for police and criminal justice reform that has transformed the election.

Richmond protests were less frequent in the fall. The initial weekend of protests after Floyd’s death saw widespread property damage throughout the city which included graffiti, broken windows and stolen property. An 8 p.m. curfew was established a few days later and Virginia State Police joined forces with local police. There were nights of clashes between demonstrators and officers. That’s left many people anticipating a strong reaction to the election, and some residents still expect civil unrest after a political rally Sunday at the area surrounding the Robert E. Lee monument.

Richmond City Council candidate Mike Dickinson led a “Trump Train 2” rally from Henrico County to Richmond, which ended with police investigating an unoccupied car struck by gunfire and a woman being pepper-sprayed. These caravans in support of President Donald Trump recently have been parading through areas around the nation ahead of the election.

Rumors have circulated that another “Trump Train” would head into the city on the evening of Election Day. Dickinson released a statement on Facebook that he and his supporters have nothing to do with it and he encouraged people to “keep the peace.”

“My campaign and I are not associated with any Trump Train event at all today and are not sponsoring any Trump Train event today,” the statement said. “We have shared everything we’ve found online about this potential event with the police.”

Richmond resident Isabelle Munnikhuysen heard the political rally from her apartment located on West Grace Street near the monument.

“It definitely increased my fears about what tonight is going to be like,” Munnikhuysen said. “I feel more in danger.”

Many local businesses on West Broad Street situated remain boarded up due to damage from previous protests. But some businesses opted not to close on Election Day, a state holiday, and remained open regular hours.

“It is important for us to be ready and prepared,” said Lift Café manager Emily Nguyen. “But we just haven’t decided as a team what message (boarding up) sends.”

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The Capital News Service is a flagship program of VCU’s Richard T. Robertson School of Media and Culture. In the program, journalism students cover news in Richmond and across Virginia and distribute their stories, photos, and other content to more than 100 newspapers, television and radio stations, and news websites.

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A quirky ‘yield to pedestrians’ sign on Brookland Park Boulevard is serving as an experiment in driver behavior

An interesting experiment is taking place in the Brookland Park area at the intersection of traffic, human behavior, and safety – and it’s all playing out on the r/rva Subreddit.

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An interesting experiment is taking place in the Brookland Park area at the intersection of traffic, human behavior, and safety – and it’s all playing out on the r/rva Subreddit.

After a yield for pedestrians sign was placed in the middle of Brookland Park Boulevard at Richmond-Henrico Turnpike, intrepid citizens, and Reddit user AndrewTheGovtDrone specifically, have documented drivers’ awareness (or lack thereof) of the sign, placed hats, balloons, and other items on or around the sign to see if or how it affects driver behavior, and witnessed it be struck by vehicles more than 30 times – and those were just the incidents caught on a video camera set up for a mere 16 hours.

Some stats about the sign and what affected driver behavior from the original post:

General Stats

The videos were taken on Thursday, April 8th (4/8/21). Saturday, April 10th (4/10/21) and Monday, April 12th (4/12/21). Altogether, the videos captured over 16 hours of intersection activity. The below stats are derived from the review of that footage. During this period:

  • 655 vehicles made the left turn off of Richmond-Henrico Tpk onto Brookland Park Blvd.

  • Of the 655 vehicles, 29 were “Commercial vehicles”( i.e. trucks, vans, uHauls, box-trucks, delivery trucks, buses, etc.). Pickup trucks and SUVs were not considered “Commercial vehicles” unless they were towing a trailer.

  • The sign was struck at least 22 times during these three days. It is entirely possible that additional collisions happened before the camera was deployed and/or after the camera died.

  • No commercial vehicles ever struck the the sign. All were able to navigate the intersection without colliding with the pedestrian sign.

  • Based on the data, drivers turning left onto BPB navigate the intersection without issue 96.6% of the time. In other words, the overwhelming majority of drivers are able to make a proper and safe turn. Collisions were not related to type of car being driven as all car types were shown to be capable of making the turn successfully if driven correctly.

  • During this period, 229 pedestrians were recorded crossing the intersection. This is likely a significant undercount due to the placement of the camera. The majority of pedestrians were bikers and dog-walkers.

Additional Information
  • As silly as the balloons were, they had a significant positive impact on driver behavior. Prior to the balloons, the sign was hit six (6) times on Monday. Following the balloon placement, the sign was hit only one (1) time.

  • Interestingly, drivers seemed to make the turn “most appropriately” (i.e. a squared-off turn) during high-traffic periods. When there was oncoming traffic, users took extra precaution to not cross the yellow lines and complete their turn “inside” the intersection. Drivers were generally more “reckless” when the roads were open.

  • The majority of pedestrians using the intersection crossed in the intersection on the “other” crosswalk, the one not being desecrated. However, the crosswalk that our champion guards is high-volume for users of the bus system.

  • At least one (1) couple hung out at the intersection for about 30 minutes waiting to see someone run our sign over. Fortunately for our sign and unfortunately for them, no one trampled him.

  • There were either two (2) separate Carvana deliveries observed or someone returned their Carvana vehicle a few days after receiving it. I’d love to get to the bottom of this.

  • As many have anecdotally reported, drivers seem unsure about what is expected of them when they approach these signs. Some slow down, most carry on without changing behavior, a small subset come to a complete stop. The City may do well to better communicate the expectations for both drivers and pedestrians related to the signs.

Based on what I saw, the takeaway is pretty clear: the sign is not the problem. #RVASIGNGANG #SIGNMEUP

As one commenter said in the original post, data is sexy, and while these experiments are entertaining, the more important outcome is that it’s all bringing attention to Richmond’s lack of pedestrian infrastructure and drivers’ carelessness at particularly nefarious intersections such as this one.

You can follow along with the sign’s saga here. A a few photos from the great experiment are below.

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Senate rejects gun control bill amendments

The Virginia Senate rejected the governor’s amendments to a bill that restricts the gun rights of anyone convicted for assault and battery of a family member.

Capital News Service

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By Hyung Jun Lee

The Virginia Senate rejected the governor’s amendments to a bill that restricts the gun rights of anyone convicted for assault and battery of a family member.

Under House Bill 1992, introduced by Del. Kathleen Murphy, D-Fairfax, anyone convicted of assault and battery of a family or household member would be prohibited from owning, purchasing or transporting firearms for a period of three years.

Gov. Ralph Northam proposed increasing the probation period from three years to five years. The governor also wanted to expand the bill to include individuals who were living together or who had cohabitated within 12 months.

The individual’s Second Amendment rights automatically will be restored after the probationary period, unless they receive another disqualifying conviction. Anyone who fails to comply with this bill would also be guilty of a Class 1 misdemeanor.

This may include jail time for up to 12 months, a fine of up to $2,500, or both.

“We know that domestic abusers should not own or purchase guns because when they’ve got one, they use one,” Murphy said when introducing the bill.

Senate Bill 1382, introduced by Sen. Barbara Favola, D-Arlington, established similar parameters but a lesser punishment for failure to comply. The Senate rejected the bill in a 22-16 vote.

The General Assembly met last week to review the governor’s proposed changes.

Lawmakers in the House passed the amendment along party lines, but it failed in the Senate. Democrats joined Republicans to vote against the changes.

Opponents said the measure is too restrictive for a misdemeanor charge.

Philip Van Cleave, president of the Virginia Citizens Defense League, said the VCDL historically would not have supported this legislation in its original form. The VCDL is a group created to protect the Second Amendment rights of Virginians.

The original bill was amended in the Senate to include rights restoration unless there was a disqualifying conviction, a protective order that would restrict the right to carry a firearm, or another legal prohibition. VCDL supported this amendment.

If a Virginia citizen lost their gun rights due to a misdemeanor charge, they would lose it forever under federal law, according to Van Cleave. HB 1992 remedies this situation.

“Right now, if you lose your gun rights due to a misdemeanor domestic violence in Virginia, you lose them forever,” Van Cleave said.

David Adams, legislative director for the Virginia Shooting Sports Association, shared some of the sentiments made by Van Cleave. The VSSA is an association that promotes shooting sports and defends firearm ownership. However, Adams opposed the bill because it would take away someone’s constitutional right due to a misdemeanor charge.

“Everyone will say ‘well, but it’s domestic violence related,’” Adams said. “But we don’t take away basic constitutional rights for misdemeanors for any other type of misdemeanor crime.”

Adams also said that while a gun owner’s rights would be automatically restored after three years at the state level, those rights may not be restored federally.

Legislators in support of Northam’s amendment said last week that there are a number of couples who cohabitate but are not married.

“Domestic violence does take place in those situations,” Favola said. “A third of our homicides are really the result of domestic violence.”

Sen. Chap Petersen, D-Fairfax said he did not expect the amendment to come back to lawmakers, or he never would have voted for the original bill.

“This bill expands the definition in a way that we did not intend,” Petersen said.

Petersen explained that by including cohabitants, there are convoluted situations which could unfairly cause someone to lose their gun rights.

“You could have a roommate, you could be living with your sister, you could be living with a couple people in the same house that are unrelated,” Petersen said. “If there is a child there, which is a child of either one of them, and they get into an altercation or shoving match, police are called, now somebody loses their gun rights for three years.”

Lori Haas, senior director of advocacy at the Coalition to Stop Gun Violence, spoke in support of the bill during its initial committee reading. She said that someone with a past history of violence is likely to be a repeat offender.

“We know that a history of violence is the single biggest predictor of future violence,” Haas said. “Oftentimes, it’s the second or third charge before the conviction sticks.”

Guns are used to intimidate, control and harass victims, Haas said.

“There are a number of situations where victims suffer consequences from an abuser owning and possessing a firearm,” Haas said. “The most serious consequence of which is death.”

Jonathan Yglesias, policy director at Virginia Sexual and Domestic Violence Action Alliance, also spoke in favor of the bill. He said the bill is a common-sense measure that will protect individuals as well as the community.

“We know that offenders of sexual and domestic violence account for 54% of all mass shooting events in the U.S.,” Yglesias said. “These policies aren’t just an issue of individual and family safety, but they’re issues of community and public safety as well.”

The governor has 30 days to act on the bill, or it will become law without his signature.

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Richmond health district moves into phase 2, all people 16 and older now eligible to receive COVID-19 vaccine

Anyone interested in receiving a COVID-19 vaccine should pre-register at vaccinate.virgininia.gov or by calling 877-VAX-IN-VA if they have not done so already.

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Richmond and Henrico Health Districts, Chesterfield Health District, and Chickahominy Health District are all moving into Phase 2 of COVID-19 vaccinations. Many pre-registered individuals will receive emails and phone calls today to schedule their appointment for as soon as next week. Additional scheduling outreach will be conducted over the coming weeks until everyone who has preregistered has been contacted for an appointment.

“This is a turning point in our vaccine distribution,” says Amy Popovich, Nurse Manager for Richmond and Henrico Health Districts. “Everyone ages 16 and over is now eligible; people no longer have to wonder if they qualify.”

“We are thrilled to make the move to Phase 2 and vaccinate more of our community members,” said the Chickahominy Health District Director, Dr. Tom Franck. “We will continue to prioritize those in Phase 1 as we move into Phase 2, while continuing to focus on equity and reaching our vulnerable populations with the support of our community partners.”

“We are proud to take this step forward in vaccine distribution alongside partners in our area,” explains Dr. Alexander Samuel, Director of Chesterfield Health District. “This is good news for all of our residents.”

Anyone interested in receiving a COVID-19 vaccine should pre-register at vaccinate.virgininia.gov or by calling 877-VAX-IN-VA if they have not done so already.

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