Last weekend, black-clad riot police with helmets, shields, and body armor formed a human wall in front of the Virginia Capitol steps, where peaceful, arm-linking women’s rights protesters were pried apart, arrested, and hauled away in buses, says Richmond Times-Dispatch columnist Michael Paul Williams. The state police SWAT team hid in the bushes around the Executive Mansion during a silent candlelight vigil for women’s rights on Feb. 27.
Bonnie Ward was among the 17 women and 13 men arrested Saturday. Charged with unlawful assembly and trespassing, she was treated like a violent criminal. Ward said her hands were cuffed behind her back for eight hours and that she had to wait three or four hours before being allowed to use a bathroom on the men’s bus. The demonstrators were arrested for being on the Capitol steps instead of at another place where they had a permit to protest. A half-century ago during the civil rights movement, protesters could expect such an immoderate police response, and worse. Williams says that Virginia “now appears to be going out of its way to alienate women.”