Richmond, Virginia, Police Chief Will Smith choked back tears during a press conference in describing how rioters torched a home with a child inside and then blocked firefighters from responding.
“Last night, protesters intentionally set a fire to an occupied building on Broad Street,” Chief Smith told reporters Sunday. “This is not the only occupied building that has been set fire to over the last two days, but they prohibited us from getting on scene. We had to force our way to make a clear path for the fire department. Protesters intercepted that fire apparatus several blocks away with vehicles and blocked that fire department’s access to the structure fire. Inside that home was a child.
“Officers were able to —,” he said, pausing to regain his composure. “Officers were able to help those people out of the house. We were able to get the fire department there safely.”
After pausing again to gather himself, Chief Smith continued, “When you take a legitimate issue and hijack it for unknown reasons, that is unacceptable to me, it’s unacceptable to the Richmond Police Department, unacceptable to the city of Richmond. … We have people from across the country who have traveled many states to be here. We know that this is an organized effort. We’re committed to try and identify those that are behind it. And we’re doing our very level best to arrest those that are perpetrating the violence on our community, and our city, and our citizens.”
The police chief’s comments came after the second night of rioting in the city, in which he blamed much of the unrest on “protester-on-protester violence” and “bad actors” looking to hijack the protests sparked by the May 25 death of George Floyd, an unarmed black man who died in Minneapolis Police custody.
Richmond Fire Lt. Chris Armstrong said Tuesday that a father and son were already outside the building “unharmed” when the fire department arrived on scene Sunday, WTVR reported. It reportedly wasn’t the home that was intentionally set on fire, but a car that had spread to the exterior of the building, he said.
Lt. Armstrong confirmed that a fire truck was initially blocked from arriving on scene, but clarified it was because of some burning trash cans and a single protester who refused to move.
“The person did not get out of the way. Someone also threw something at the vehicle,” he told WTVR.
Lt. Armstrong added that some additional protesters started to approach the fire truck, but police in riot gear arrived and dispersed them.
• Jessica Chasmar can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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