A simple way of enabling speech helped keep the peace at Confederate monument in Virginia Beach

Diane Willoughby of Lake Shores writes the name of an ancestor who fought for the Confederacy on a dry erase board. She read about the event in a local newspaper, and attended the rally to show support for keeping the monument in place. [John-Henry Doucette/The Princess Anne Independent News]

COURTHOUSE – On the day of a rally at the Confederate monument at the municipal center, Master Police Officer Bradley Detrich and Capt. David Squires, commanding officer of the First Precinct, had a talk.

The heart of an idea expressed by Detrich proved effective. It was a way to direct the desires of different sides for self-expression about a contentious issue in a constructive way. 

Police later said it was part of a game plan that helped people engage in free speech without resulting in arrest, altercations or property damage during the rally to remove the monument and a counter protest on Thursday, Aug. 24. 

It was done on the quick.

And it didn’t cost a cent.

Detrich, who works in the crime prevention unit, had conducted an assessment of the environment around the monument in the wake of violence at Charlottesville. The effort was underway before the monument in Virginia Beach was marked with chalk. 

Detrich figured placing a way for people to leave messages might help spare the monument itself from harm. He wrote to the captain about a more permanent way for people to leave messages at the monument. 

Why not give them a way to do it safely?

“I figured, if people were expressing themselves, they’d be a little less frustrated with the other side,” Detrich said.

The captain liked the concept, but he asked Detrich to make part of the plan a reality on a temporary basis for the rally that afternoon.

“I gave him, I think, 90 or 105 minutes to get it done,” Squires said later.

Detrich might have headed to Home Depot, but a nearby school was being refurbished. Workers there helped pull dry erase board and chalkboards off the walls. And police drove them to the monument, setting them up, some leaning against barricades, for either side to use.

Of course, markers and chalk were provided, too. 

“In the first 10 minutes, somebody had picked up a marker,” Squires said.

“We’re going to use this for the next one,” Detrich said.

Indeed, pads on easels were available when the monument was discussed during the city historic preservation commission meeting on Wednesday, Sept. 6, at the Virginia Beach Convention Center.

The matter was discussed again. Peacefully.

Based upon an idea by Master Police Officer Brad Detrich, seen below, police sought to give people at the event a means of expression. [John-Henry Doucette/The Princess Anne Independent News]
During a meeting of the historical preservation commission on Wednesday, Sept. 6, pads on easels such as the one at bottom right served a similar purpose as dry erase boards erected for the rally in August. [The Princess Anne Independent News]

© 2017 Pungo Publishing Co., LLC

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