by KATE SELTZER & ABIGAIL BUCHHOLZ
Editor-In-Chief & Associate Editor
Hundreds of protesters marched through Fredericksburg yesterday. Police, wearing riot gear and advancing with an armored vehicle, met the protesters at the end of Falmouth Bridge with canisters of tear gas and rubber bullets.
The initial protest began around 3 p.m. with about 20 protesters marching in laps down Caroline Street and around the block. They were soon joined by many other marchers carrying signs.
At 5 p.m., protesters gathered at Market Square and the demonstration began in full. Based on a show of hands, most of the people out yesterday were not present at the previous night’s march. Leaders of the protest and those who had attended previous protests advised attendees that if they were unwilling to deal with the police presence and tear gas, they should leave.
In an effort to keep the protest peaceful, the leaders of the protest placed themselves in between the gathering police cars and those marching. Those marching were encouraged not to touch the cars, damage property or litter. Several protesters carried trash bags with them in order to pick up garbage they encountered along the way.
Protesters moved downtown, periodically gathering to kneel in the road at intersections while chanting “Hands up, don’t shoot.”
By 7 p.m., protesters began marching onto the Falmouth Bridge. The plan was to take a knee on the bridge, which they did for several minutes as traffic ground to a halt behind them.
As they progressed across the bridge, police formed a line of officers armed with riot gear. Police fired several “warning shots” of tear gas. The Blue and Gray Press was too far away to note if the initial firing of tear gas was at the protesters, or to the side. Organizers instructed protesters not to run and to not engage with the police.
Police eventually shot several more rounds of tear gas at the protesters as they retreated down the bridge. The firing of tear gas was repeated at intervals as the police advanced down the bridge and the protesters retreated.
“I heard screaming, and then I saw the canister fly right past me. The whole gas went in my face and it hurt so bad and I started running. I was blind,” said a protester, who gave their initials as BB. “A few ladies sprayed me with the solution. It’s better now but it still hurts.”
The protester was shaken by the experience.
“I think I’m going to stay for a little more, but if it happens again I’m leaving.”
As police fired tear gas at protesters, some threw the canisters back in the direction of the police. Others threw them over the Falmouth Bridge into the Rappahannock River. A few protesters threw rocks and water bottles in the direction of police, against the wishes of the majority of the crowd.
“We were in the street,” said a protester identified as CS. “They could have just let us protest peacefully because it is our right to protest.”
A third protester, SO, spoke positively about protesters tending to each other in the wake of the tear gas.
“I witnessed a bunch of people helping each other as a community – white and black, everyone just helping each other, and that’s what I think that matters the most. There was tear gas, [police officers] coming, [and] white people came and stood in front of all the POC.”