by JESS KIRBY & JOSEPHINE JOHNSON
On the evening of Sunday, May 31, protests broke out in Fredericksburg, Va. in response to the deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery and other black Americans by police.
The Fredericksburg Police Department called in five officers from the UMW Police Department to assist in controlling the protesters, according to a statement from UMW Police Chief Michael Hall.
Fredericksburg PD’s public information officer Sarah Kirkpatrick said that four protests occurred throughout the day, and only the last one “turned hostile and threatened public safety.” The officers deployed tear gas and sting ball grenades in response.
“Protesters threatened innocent bystanders and police, antagonized law enforcement, attempted to gain access to downtown businesses, threw rocks and other objects at law enforcement, knocked over trash cans, blocked traffic on multiple streets throughout the City, kneeled across a four-lane highway putting themselves and motorists in danger and vandalized parked vehicles as well as historic structures in the downtown district,” said Kirkpatrick.
“Out of extreme concern for the safety of our City residents, visitors, business owners, motorists, as well as themselves, law enforcement deployed tear gas and sting ball grenades,” she said. “Before each deployment of tear gas or sting ball grenades, officers declared an unlawful assembly and asked protesters to leave the area on their own accord multiple times, which they ignored.”
It is unclear whether UMW Police took part in the tear gassing.
“I only saw the UMW PD vehicles when the protesters were tear gassed on Cowan Blvd.,” said James Farmer Multicultural Center Assistant Director Christopher Williams.
The following afternoon, Hall released a statement to the UMW community through email confirming that UMW Police were called to the protest. He declined to provide the names of the five UMW officers involved and deferred any other questions to the Fredericksburg PD.
“I can assure you that the UMW Police department does not have tear gas or sting ball grenades,” said Hall in an email when asked if the UMW Police were involved in the tear gassing and throwing of sting ball grenades.
“Five UMW police officers reported to City Police Headquarters Sunday night after the request was made. Under the agreement, they serve under the command of the agency in charge,” said Hall in his original statement. “Any questions concerning the City’s public safety response, including law enforcement actions or tactics during the civil disturbance, should be directed to the City Police Department’s Public Information Officer.”
When asked to identify if UMW Police participated in deploying tear gas and sting ball grenades, Kirkpatrick responded that “policy does not allow [them] to answer questions on behalf of another agency.”
Protester and recent UMW graduate who identified himself as Justin was one several of UMW students and graduates at the protest.
“As [protesters] walked up Cowan nearing the police station the police shot tear gas at both ends of the crowd, trapping some while trying to make them all disperse,” said Justin. “After we returned we saw a statement made by the Fredericksburg police department from around 11pm, thanking UMW police for assisting them on Cowan.”