Lieutenant Governor Bill Bolling embraced the actions of the Virginia Capitol Police and Virginia State Police when they crushed a peaceful women's rights protest on Saturday, March 3, 2012 with paramilitary police units. Bolling went so far as to demand an apology from those who criticized the police's actions. Bolling said that Democrats "owe an apology to capitol police and they owe an apology to capitol police for calling them out on the Senate floor." That's it: the Virginia Republican Party owns what happened on Saturday. The actions of the Capitol Police and State Police met the expectations of the VA GOP and they are happy to defend those actions, so let's not have any blather that the use of paramilitaries against their opposition is not the Virginia Republican Party's chosen policy.
Bolling was reacting to the following remarks from Senator Chap Petersen (D-Fairfax) and Senator Janet Howell (D-Reston). First Chap Petersen:
Ladies & Gentlemen of the Senate:
I rise to speak today on what is truly a fundamental right in this Commonwealth: the right of citizens to peaceably assemble & petition their government for redress.
This right was included in our Declaration of Rights, passed by this body in 1776. It is in the First Amendment to the United States Constitution.
I joined this legislature 10 years ago. During that time, I have witnessed demonstrations from every group imaginable. Some armed with signs, others with firearms, some with white medical coats.
In all cases, I was happy to see people come to the State Capitol to share their views, whether or not those views were also mine.
Frankly, considering the low rate of voter participation in legislative races, I’m flattered anytime a voter takes the time to visit us.
That’s why I’ve been so shocked & amazed over the past few weeks to see the reaction of certain state agencies to the presence of protestors in Capitol Square.
On February 27, there was a peaceful gathering by several concerned women in front of the Governor’s mansion. That is publicly-owned property and part of Capitol Square. There was no indication that anyone was in any harm.
Regardless, there were State Police running around in flak jackets and an armored car parked at the mansion.
This past Saturday, March 3, there was another gathering of approximately 1,000 people, again mostly women.
They were met by squads of State Police wearing riot gear, more appropriate for a bar brawl than a civil protest.
Men of Virginia –
Would we permit our wives, our sisters, our mothers and daughters to be treated this way in our homes? In our communities?
I speak not as a State Senator, but as a man who is the son of a Virginian, married to a Virginian and the father of Virginians.
It’s not right to see our Virginia women treated this way.
We are a free society. This is a public square. People have a right to protest, without harassment or intimidation.
Thank you for listening to me.
Next, Janet Howell:
Since the very first day of this session, things have been going seriously awry.
On January 10th, Virginia had a well-deserved reputation as a moderate, pro-business, civil, and peaceful state.
In the past 8 ½ weeks that reputation has changed. Because of the vaginal probe legislation, Virginia became a national laughing stock. We became a joke because of anti-women legislation passing through the General Assembly.
It got so bad that business leaders complained about the damage being done to our state’s reputation and competitiveness.
But now we are at a new, even more, disturbing stage.
Our state capitol is becoming an armed garrison. Peaceful demonstrators are being intimidated and arrested.
Eight days ago, peaceful demonstrators who wanted to “take back the night” were confronted with SWAT teams, armed law enforcement on roofs, and officers in riot gear. The demonstrators—mostly women—were carrying lit flashlights.
Here on the Capitol Grounds—confronted by heavily armed police—the protestors were told they could not light their flashlights.
What? What is so subversive about a lit flashlight?
This past Saturday, 850 demonstrators came on the Capitol Grounds. They were chanting, “Tell me what democracy looks like! This is what democracy looks like!”
And it was! They were peaceful demonstrators going to the seat of government to express their views. In this case, they were marching and chanting for women’s rights.
And what did they face? SWAT teams, state police in full riot gear, police armed with semi-automatic guns, and dogs. Dogs!
Not since the massive resistance days in the 60s have I seen such a disgraceful display of excessive police presence in my state.
When I described what is going on here in Richmond to my son and showed him videos, he said we need a symbol to express outrage.
I thought back eight days to when women armed only with flashlights were confronted with SWAT teams and armed police. They only had their flashlights which they were told to extinguish. Well, now a flashlight is my symbol of peaceful protestors standing up to oppressive force.
And my flashlight will stay on my desk next to my beloved Virginia flag until reason and balance return to this General Assembly and capitol.
Of course it is clear to anyone with an ounce of common sense that the actions of the police on March 3, 2012 were way over the top and excessive and were meant specifically to intimidate political dissenters. Thirty-one brave Virginians defied the police's brutal tactics and called their bluff. The entire world can see what happened--and Virginia's Republicans, and most especially Bob McDonnell, own this dark chapter in our history.