ACLU of Virginia expresses ‘concern’ over demonstrators’ rights to free speech

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RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — The ACLU of Virginia issued a statement Friday in which they expressed “concern[] that aggressive policing may result in violations of demonstrators’ constitutional right to free speech” at this Saturday’s protests relating to the Confederate Monuments in Richmond.

Representatives said in a release that because police do not have “reliable knowledge” yet about which groups will be participating in Saturday’s event, “there is as of yet no actionable threat to public safety.”

The group said that preemptive statements by police officials about arresting anyone for the slightest violation of the law seem premature and may serve to heighten tensions prior to the event even happening.

Police said publicly Thursday that they are not taking sides, but are working hard to keep residents and rally participants safe.

“If people are thinking of showing up this weekend, my advice is this: obey the laws and let us treat one another with respect,” Richmond Police Chief Alfred Durham said.

Mayor Levar Stoney echoed Chief Durham while restating his dedication to maintaining public safety.

“We will not tolerate violence,” he said.

The ACLU of Virginia said that while they commend the police for their efforts and for their willingness to include the community when making plans, their ultimate goal is to ensure that everyone who wants to speak is allowed to do so. To ensure this goal, they will have observers on hand to document how the demonstrations are policed and whether their interpretation of constitutional standards are met.

Ultimately, they said they want the police to “make every reasonable effort to keep opposing groups separate but within sight and sound of each other.”

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