Monday, February 27, 2012

Bob McDonnell deploys State Police SWAT team against peaceful candlelight vigil

There have only been a handful of times since I started blogging six years ago that I've covered a story that made me really, deeply, viscerally angry. Tonight is one of those times. Tonight I attended the "TAKE BACK THE RIGHT: Candlelight Vigil & Speak Out for Women" at Virginia's Capitol Square near the Governor's Mansion. It was a small, well behaved and completely peaceful demonstration, as the following photos prove. In addition, I have video which I will be publishing later to show just how completely peaceful this demonstration was.

The crowd was passionate, but extremely well behaved.

The mood of the protesters was peaceful, but determined to make their point and convey their opposition to Bob McDonnell's radical anti-woman social agenda.

The ordinary, uniformed Capitol Police were well represented, at a minimum there was at least one armed, uniformed Capitol Police person at or near the site of the protest for every two protesters. This in itself was a wildly disproportionate response to the scale and character of the protest, which was quiet, even muted.

As this picture shows, the peaceful, unarmed protesters were separated from the Governor's Mansion by a five foot tall stone wall topped by an eight foot tall wrought iron fence topped by spear points. But the 50-100 uniformed Capitol Police and the thirteen foot tall barrier presented by the wall and the fence still weren't enough to make Bob McDonnell feel secure.

As I shot video of the protest and various speakers, I became aware of movement in the bushes above the crowd. I immediately switched my Nikon D5000 from video to still and swapped out my 18 x 55mm lens for my longer 50 x 200mm mid range lens. I began scanning the bushes behind Virginia's Governor's Mansion, trying to find the source of the movement that had caught my eye.

I often joke that my Nikon camera with its Vibration Reduction ("VR") lens can see in the dark, but tonight I found it difficult to get my camera to focus on the shadowy figures darting through the bushes above the peaceful protest.

Finally I switched from ambient light to my camera's built-in flash, pre-focused on a gap in the brush behind the Governor's Mansion, and waited. After about a minute of waiting I was able to snap this picture: a fully armed and armored SWAT team member concealed in the bushes, perhaps 30 feet from the peaceful protestors below.

For the next half hour I played hide and seek with the heavily armed members of Virginia's State Police SWAT team as they darted from bush to bush above the protest.

Some of the Capitol Police and SWAT team members caught on to the fact that I had stopped filming the protest and had my camera focused on their hiding places. Here a Capitol Policeman smiles as I snap a photo; I didn't even have to ask him to say "cheese." It's all a big joke for this guy--after all he's probably being paid overtime for doing nothing but trying to intimidate protesters for Bob McDonnell. All on the taxpayer's dime.

After I'd caught them a couple of times, the SWAT team members became a lot more camera shy.

They began darting from bush to bush much more quickly and I couldn't catch them. So I decided to shift my vantage point. Two can play this game, I said to myself as I darted across Governor's Street and ran half a block up the street to where the fence curved. Sticking my camera between the bars, I shot several frames.

This is what I caught, the members of the Virginia State Police SWAT team lurking near the rear of the Governor's Mansion along with an armored car.

Seeing my flash from an unexpected direction, the brave SWAT members turned and fled, trying to hide their presence.

I switched off my flash and caught this image using ambient light and VR.

Masked in the bushes was the State Police's armored car, their "RV."

Here's what I believe to be the same vehicle in an image taken from a police website.

What I saw tonight at the State Capitol was a massive over-reaction by Capitol Police and a really disturbing attempt by the McDonnell administration to use the State Police SWAT team to intimidate peaceful protesters through the display of overwhelming force. Were it not for the armored car, the body armor, and the automatic weapons, this use of massive armed police power against a small and peaceful group of protesters would seem kind of pathetic. It certainly shows a fundamental misunderstanding of the political situation Bob McDonnell finds himself in. This is not Iran, and "Taliban Bob" McDonnell can't muzzle the voices of free Americans. My camera was just one of dozens--McDonnell's latest over-reach, deploying a SWAT team against peaceful demonstrators is well-documented. Welcome to the world of YouTube and Blogger, Governor McDonnell.


Speak Loud With Silence said...

This wasn't all. There were over 30 state police officers inside the building next to the mansion. About an hour before the vigil, I watched them walk in one by one with a huge duffell bag and riot shields.

It wasn't until most of us left that they moved out, and at least 4 of us saw just how many officers were coming out of the building with riot shields. It was utterly insane- all for a bunch of middle aged women holding candles!!


The Richmonder said...

It's the vaginas that scare them. There must have been 100 vaginas there tonight. McDonnell must have bee terrified by all those vaginas.

Commercial Art Installation said...

ageAmazing photos and commentary - until you get to the end and felt it necessary to slam Iran, itself the target of the kind of "over-reaciton" you are exposing here. By the way, the Taliban are not in iran - they hate the Iranians for opposing their former regime in Afghanistan. Likewise al-Qaeda. The U.S. is doing just fine in demonizing Iran and softening up public opinion for another war. Progressives don't need to pile on. - Phil WiIayto, Editor, The Virginia Defender

Cat said...

Even more reason to show up on Saturday. Wonder what sort of force will be present for that?

Frances said...

Thanks for the photos. I was there but couldn't get any of the SWAT guys in the dark. As for Iran, I've been there, too, and found friendly, peaceful people. We must not judge people by their governments. I surely would not want anyone to think I am like the current Virginia government.

hillbilly62000 said...

How many of you people voted for these Republican's on your morals, and the lie about job's job's job's? Well this is what your vote got ya do you still want the commonwealth to be a social conservative state, if this is what it looks like, and feels like? Losing the right for a woman to decide what is in her best interest for her body. how many more right's are you willing to let be infringed upon by these Republican's that you keep right on electing. You voted these people in no bitching enjoy your spoil's.

DebraL said...

I was there last night and noticed the shadowy figures in the bushes. Thank you for getting & sharing these incredible shots.The overreaction tells me we are making a differencce. I just hope we remember who is paying for all this even as money for infrastructure & education is on the chopping block. We ar not the enemy, we are the people and we have had enough. People are standing up for what is right, I suppose that would frighten someone like McDonell.

hillbilly62000 said...

No offense Frances how can you not judge people by their Government if they are elected by the people of the Commonwealth.This is the Government that was elected by the people in the last 2 election's that gave us a Republican Governor, A Republican majority in both of the state houses. This is something that we the people have to learn from. Your vote does count, and this is proof. The commonwealth is a social conservative state in how it votes, and this is the kind of government you are going to get from social conservatives. Their message when they ran was job's job's job's in 2010, and instead of job's we get bill's about making ultrasounds mandatory for women who are thinking about abortion's. Oh yeah, and as of yesterday you have to bring your id to the voter's booth. These are the people that more than likely you, and a lot of these people voted for. Didn't you get what you wanted with your vote?

Beej519 said...

Great job, JC! Thanks for being there, armed, with your super camera!

KingCranium said...

So they were hiding in the bushes, and you had to play hide and seek with them, and then you had to chase some to their car, upon which they ran away, and they were trying to 'intimidate the crowd'? Either they were trying to remain unseen, or they were announcing their presence so as to intimidate the crowd, but not both. Look, your willingness to see frights everywhere not withstanding, what do you know about law enforcement policy for responses to such demonstrations? Maybe they react the same way to every one that occurs there. I don't know, but neither do you, and without that knowledge you cannot adequately judge whether this demonstration was singled out for special attention.

Storm said...

Learn to use your camera?

engaged said...

I thought people were joking when they referred to the SWAT team in the bushes above our heads. Great pix, JC!

Can you imagine the headlines if they confronted us because we refused to turn off our battery-powered candles?!

Maybe they were dissuaded by our singing, "This little light of mine, I'm gonna let it shine..." They should recognize the tune, being the good "christians" that they are :/

Word said...

Having served in the United States Marine Corps; I have never seen so much firepower and personnel for battery operated candles. It was Martial Law last night! They also told us to put away all signs and all lights had to be off or we would be arrested! Suppression of our freedom of speech is unacceptable. This is not why I served my country. I served to protect everyone's FREEDOMS in this country! Drop the scare & fear tactics Governor!

Dana Potter said...

The scariest thing to think about is that this is the kind of response to women's concerns that would become standard (I fear) if someone like, God forbid, Rich Santorum won the White House. We need to make sure that the next VA governor is very, very different!!

Speak Loud With Silence said...

Pictures of the riot police leaving the Patrick Henry Building: