Were you at the two most recent Art Walks? There were about 15 fights at the most recent one, and a heavy police presence brought an intense vibe to the event. An event that has revitalized downtown Richmond now stands threatened by its own success, and by the age-old curse where we inadvertently ruin the great things that happen to us. Issues of race need to be addressed, and were clearly present at the last events.
The most recent First Fridays Art Walk holds a perfect magnifying glass over the problems we face moving forward and evolving as a city. There have been quite a few public reactions to the two most recent Art Walks.
Many responses have been racially charged, although I have seen a few public comments begging the city not to make this a race issue. Yes, we should use caution. Because we want to make sure EVERYONE feels welcome at First Fridays.
I think we would be better off addressing this issue, however uncomfortable it is, and then moving forward to fix prejudices of racism and classism. The Elephant in the Room only feeds on denial.
This is not about age, this is about race and centuries old tension in Richmond. I have seen a lot of people latching onto this growing idea that the “problems” and “skirmishes” at First Fridays are all coming from the “youth.”
When did everyone in Richmond become such an expert on age identification?
Yes, there are definitely more kids than there used to be, but in reality there are also more black people at First Fridays than there used to be.
Apparently, it is easier to say, “No, this isn’t a race issue, this is an age issue.”
Well, be warned, denial never fixes problems.
I call Bullshit. Granted, there were some underage kids there. There were also a lot of adults.
Here comes the elephant.
Several people have commented that they will not be returning to First Fridays. Several comments have been made, dramatizing the demise of First Fridays.
Many of the problems we’ve seen have only escalated over the past couple of years. We don’t need to ask how to salvage First Fridays, but rather, how to imagine where it goes in its next level of development.
It is unfortunate that cops have to break up crowds of people watching a dance exhibition (of random participants) outside of Backstage, or any other place where music is being played or made and people want to dance.
The cops have to do it because a crowd impedes the flow of traffic. They wouldn’t have to do it if Broad Street was blocked off though.
Many people have said that the event had a weird vibe to it. I was there for more 4 hours, from 7 p.m. to around midnight.
I had a great time. I did feel some stress because of all the police and because there were a lot of people just walking up and down the street. Up and down up and down up and down.
I do like that police are there breaking up fights. There were 15 fights broken up that night, a police officer said.
No guns. No arrests. One kid was beaten pretty badly, but ran off with his friends before the ambulance arrived.
People are reporting that there were fights in front of their galleries regardless of all the cops on the streets.
So the new First Fridays crowd is more intense. And this is a point that is statistically proven.
There have been threats made to police and a bunch of fights. When the crowd at First Fridays was predominantly white, there weren’t fights. The crowd of late has been predominantly black, and now there are fights.
So, why are some of these black people fighting? I implore you, will you please stop? This is ridiculous that a group of people can’t go to First Friday’s without fighting. We’ve seen it many times in the city. This is absolutely sad.
I would think that an event capable of pulling crowds from all races–especially the two predominant ones of our city–represents an accomplishment. Unfortunately we aren’t there yet.
Dear White People
Stop being scared of black people. I saw the looks on people’s faces that night–nervousness, shock. Stop complaining that First Fridays will fail because this new crowd isn’t buying stuff; art or food. I saw plenty of people buying food from street vendors. They are local.
No one has to come buy things. Isn’t enough that 5,000 people come to Broad Street, and countless others visit citywide venues, in the name of Art Walk? Certainly, ten years ago, no one really went to Broad Street east of Belvidere for much of anything. But people who were purchasing should not stop. It seems all the more important for people who love Art Walk to keep supporting it.
A true downtown revitalization happens when all ages, classes and races unite behind an event and celebrate its existence. Everyone needs to bring something positive to the experience.
Our police officers need to be able to protect without overprotecting. They also need to well set-up, for instance by having the Broad Street blocked off.
Heavy patrol on the streets–did it help?
We witnessed a Richmond City Police officer cruising beside a group of black people, down the 200 and 300 blocks of Broad Street, yelling “There will be no First Fridays next month or the month after,” over the intercom. Really? Are officers working overtime and just getting frustrated too easily? Or do they know something we don’t know?
In total there were 17 Richmond City Police officers, including the mounted police, said a police officer. Chief Norwood was also present, along with the assistant chief and two majors.
At least two VCU police cars also came over to help out.
For perspective, there used to be four police officers working First Fridays a year ago.
One cop told me “I used to work that assignment back when I was in (removed for anonymous purposes) because it was fun and easy.”
“Now you can’t get people to sign up for it,” he added.
So how did over 20 officers on scene play out?
It startled people. Flashing police lights, sirens and intercoms have the ability to make people feel like something bad is going to happen.
Also, perhaps that many cops will provoke rebellious behavior. I saw several instances where people antagonized police. I’m not saying that action is acceptable. I’m saying that it’s natural to be young and rebellious. A feeling amplified by frustration for being targeted, more than likely.
A group of people ran into the median and started dancing. It wasn’t malicious or menacing. It was fun and free-spirited–just dangerous.
I would like to know why police didn’t issue any citations to juveniles who were out past curfew.
I did hear from one police officer that the sheer amount of juveniles was just so overwhelming that there was no way they could get to them all and therefore they just weren’t doing anything.
Wow, hope we don’t deal with, say, burglaries or drug problems this way.
What I did see instead were police following groups of black people, screaming over the intercom to “Go Home. It’s over. Just go home.”
Two problems with that. First, it isn’t illegal to walk the sidewalks of Broad as an adult.
So police can’t profile. They certainly were not up the street near all the white bars on Robinson following people stumbling up and down Main St.
I rode past the Main/Robinson Street bars on my way home from First Fridays. ‘Lo and Behold, outside of FW Sullivans, drunk white people blocked the sidewalk. They even spilled into the road!
Further west of that bar, gaggles of white drunks roamed the sidewalks. I didn’t see a single police officer.
When we were underage and used to come downtown to Grace St. and visit the Village (when it was on the other side), no cops harassed us.
Second, if you’re going to tell us that police should be chasing people up and down Broad Street because all those people were underage, then start issuing some curfew violation tickets!
Looking forward and lingering questions
Assuming that the Richmond Police were wrong, and First Fridays will go on next month, well, what needs to happen from here?
Maybe the Greater Richmond Chamber of Commerce and all i.e.* partners could get together and launch a brainstorming session on it?
Kidding. Only sort-of.
An overwhelming consensus of Richmond seems to support the closure of Broad Street.
The director of First Fridays, Christina E. Newton, has said this is too expensive, and impossible.
Broad St. is a major evacuation route, and so it is unrealistic to imagine its closure on a busy Friday evening. The road has been closed for festivals like Broad Appetit.
And now we have arrived at a bigger issue entirely: downtown revitalization.
What about the idea to change the traffic pattern of one-way streets into two-way streets? That was brought up in the Downtown Masterplan, right?
If traffic was rerouted along Grace and Marshall Streets, the closure of Broad would not matter.
Even if that didn’t happen, what about Altria, Dominion, or MeadWestVaco sponsorship to fund street closures? If not 12 months out of the year, how about the most trafficked months?
Give sponsors a beer garden and some signage!
First Fridays is run by a very tiny organization. Christina Newton has a lot on her plate.What kind of support can be offered to her?
Why isn’t the GRCC in on this? How much money has been spent on Save Low Fares and i.e.*–and with what results? Mayor Jones, this needs immediate attention.
Art Walk is one of the most amazing events in our city. I truly felt pride in Richmond when I went to my first Art Walk.
Imagine a First Friday’s with ample room to support foot traffic. A street festival would not hurt local businesses and galleries, rather it would provide room for more people to come and safely visit. Trust me, it makes a huge difference when people have room to roam.
Not everyone is accountable for the chaos of late at Art Walks. But we are all responsible for the future development and improvement of Richmond.
Our city doesn’t move forward unless a majority of its people has a respect and tolerance for themselves and each other. What we need to Create, RVA, are real solutions, real fast.
This is strictly an opinion piece. I suggest other reporters continue to do some investigative work into the situation. I am very interested in how gallery owners feel about First Fridays.
I do not assume to have all the answers, or any of the answers. If I’ve gotten it all wrong, tell me how, in the comments.
I just have a genuine desire to work with people to improve our city. If your comments here are not productive, and are inflammatory, I will moderate them. Don’t doubt that for a second.