By Leah Small
Capital News Service
RICHMOND – More than half of the protesters arrested during Saturday’s women’s rights rally at the Capitol will receive free legal representation from Wayne Powell; an attorney and Democrat who plans to challenge Republican U.S. Rep. Eric Cantor.
The first group of about 30 arrested activists were arraigned Monday and charged with trespassing and unlawful assembly. Protesters gathered on and around the stairs of the Capitol instead of at the Bell Tower where their permit allowed. Those arrested had refused to step down from the stairs after the Division of Capitol Police issued a final warning.
“This was a peaceable assembly, and it should not have been disrupted,” Powell said Monday. “I think people sitting on the steps of their own Capitol are not trespassing … That’s the way I look at it.”
Powell, who plans to run against Cantor for the 7th Congressional District seat in November, said well over half of the protesters were arraigned Monday morning with more pending on March 14 and 16.
Brian Moran, who chairs the Democratic Party of Virginia, released a statement criticizing Gov. Bob McDonnell and the Republican Party. He said that attention should be focused not on how police handled the situation but on the “radical agenda [that] created the environment for this unfortunate situation to arise.”
Democratic legislators said Capitol Police, some armed and in riot gear, reacted too strongly to Saturday’s demonstrators.
“Men of Virginia — men of Virginia — do we want our wives, our grandmothers, our mothers, our sisters, our daughters our nieces treated this way?” Sen. Chap Petersen, D-Fairfax, asked fellow senators.
“Speaking to the gentlemen in this body, we as men take exception when we see our womenfolk treated this way. It’s not right. I stand up today, not as a state senator, simply as a son of a Virginian, as the husband of a Virginian, as the father of Virginians. It’s not right. I speak as one half of the gender, but as a man, I don’t think it’s right.”
Republicans chided Democrats, saying they should show more support for law enforcement officers.
“When I hear the term ‘disgraceful police presence’ as characterizing our Virginia State Police and our Capitol police, the most gentlemanly term I can come up with is that is exceedingly disingenuous,” said Sen. Thomas Norment, R-Williamsburg. He noted that the Capitol police are charged with protecting state property and the legislators.
This CNS article was published in the Williamsburg Yorktown Daily.