“Protesters intentionally set a fire to an occupied building on Broad Street,” Smith said Sunday in an emotional speech. “This is not the only occupied building that has been set fire to in the last two days.”
Protesters prevented fire crews, who alerted the Richmond Police Department, from reaching the scene.
“Protesters intercepted that fire apparatus several blocks away with vehicles and blocked that fire department’s access to the structure fire,” Smith said. “Inside that home was a child,” he said, holding back tears as he detailed what happened that night.
Officials were able to help the people and the child safely exit the burning home after the fire crew and police managed to breach the protesters and clear the path, he continued.
Chief William C. Smith comments on a challenging situation during last night’s protests in #RVA. You can watch the rest of this @CityRichmondVA press conference here: https://t.co/jvzqcaRA3i pic.twitter.com/LCHrIIAeM2
— Richmond Police (@RichmondPolice) May 31, 2020
“They prohibited us from getting on scene,” Smith said. “We had to force our way to make a clear path for the fire department.”
Smith and Richmond Mayor Levar Stoney denounced the violent actions of some rioters, who they say were using the George Floyd protests to cause violence and destruction.
“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,” Smith said.
“The past two nights I’ve been disappointed—peaceful protest was hijacked by people who do not care about our city,” Stoney wrote on Twitter.
Smith as well as Stoney said they believe many of the violent rioters travel from outside of the city to disrupt the peaceful protests.
“We have people from across the country who have traveled many states to be here. We know that this is an organized effort,” Smith said.
Sunday night protests marked the second night in the Virginian city over George Floyd’s death, a black man who died on May 25 after a Minneapolis police officer pressed his knee on his neck for nearly nine minutes during an arrest.
The officer, Derek Chauvin, was arrested last week. He has been charged with third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter. Chauvin was held at Ramsey County Jail before being taken to the Hennepin County Jail on Sunday.
At least five people have been killed and dozens injured so far across the United States as demonstrations turned violent. National Guard troops were deployed in 15 states and Washington in an attempt to quell the violence.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.