Originally published in the Summer 2020 edition of the Virginia Defender, issue 62, printed August 14. Reproduced here for accessibility and archival purposes. To find other stories in the Summer 2020 issue or download the full PDF, see this post. For the full web catalog, see our Full Issues page.
Web admin’s note: the original layout of these two pieces was side-by-side in vertical columns. Here, Princess Blanding’s statement is published first, and Goad Gatsby’s second.
By Princess Blanding
After the unjust murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis, the Richmond community, along with the rest of the country, has taken a strong stand to demand that legislative changes be made to address police brutality, especially in the Black community; to call for an end to qualified immunity for law enforcement; and to move forward with legislative changes that hold our police departments accountable for their behaviors.
After so many years of police murders of Black people, the brutal death of George Floyd was the last straw. To see the officers kneel on Mr. Floyd’s neck while he continuously said, “I can’t breath” and called for his mother hit the hearts of people across all racial barriers.
The Richmond community has taken a strong, united stand to say, “No More!” and to demand accountability from our elected and appointed officials, who continue to condone and enable this racist system that continuously harasses, demonizes, dehumanizes, unjustly incarcerates and murders our Black People. The deep-rooted racism is very clearly seen and deeply felt in our Black communities.
Richmond has had our own local George Floyd: my brother, Marcus-David Peters, who was fatally shot by a Richmond police officer on May 14, 2018, while unarmed, completely undressed and experiencing a mental health crisis. After Mr. Floyd’s death, my brother’s killing was pushed back up to the front of our community members’ minds.
Since 2018, my family and I have been fighting for the creation of a Marcus Alert system in which mental health experts would be the first responders in a suspected or confirmed mental health crisis, with police present only as backup, with nonlethal force.
We also have been fighting for the creation of an independent Civilian Review Board with subpoena power.
These demands, along with four others (see “The Rebellion’s Demands: on page 9), have been embraced by the Richmond community, along with the demand that the names of all officers charged with misconduct during the protests be made public.
I believe that what Black people want to come out of this movement is that all seven demands be met. We want clear, concrete legislative changes that hold police officers accountable – in addition to the creation of independent civilian review boards with subpoena power, Virginia needs to do away with qualified immunity.
I believe that Black people also want to see the police department be defunded and Black futures be funded. We want to see police officers removed from our schools and replaced with school counselors to help end the school-to-prison pipeline. We want to see more systems of community care, to include equitable housing and health care. We want to see an end to the massive number of evictions, especially during this time of coronavirus pandemic that sees no sign of ending anytime soon.
I am a strong believer that there is a lot of power in Unity, and that We the People have a lot of power, and we have to continue to unite and show the people in power, that We the People have the ultimate power.
By Goad Gatsby
Since May of this year, the city of Richmond has seen daily protests with one common theme: The police have an unchecked amount of power, and that must end.
When it comes time to shrink the budget of government services, one thing that is off the table is police departments. In the last decade, crime against property has stayed constant, while the annual police budget has gone up over $15 million a year. While other government services are at risk of being slashed every year, the police budget keeps growing.
When it comes to use of force during these protests, there has been no sign that, no matter who the chief is, the Richmond police will stop using chemical agents, flashbang grenades and less-lethal rounds. No police officer has been held accountable for the use of these tactics, nor has their identity been made public since these protests began.
The June 1st event when Richmond police deployed chemical gasses on peaceful protesters at the Lee statue did not result in any officers being held accountable for their actions.
On May 31st, a police officer used pepper spray on a resident in his home, but that incident has yielded no announcements of disciplinary actions from the City.
A June 13th protest in which a Richmond police officer in his SUV jumped a curb and hit two protesters rather than go in reverse initially caused Mayor Stoney to call for an investigation, but then he was secretly recorded telling Richmond police officers that he thought the protesters were at fault.
A few weeks later, the Richmond Commonwealth’s Attorney determined that the police were not at fault and said no further action would be taken.
As I watch these protests continue, I see the mayor, the Commonwealth’s Attorney and the majority of City Council members stand by and not take any actions to deter the police from abusing their authority.
Seeing democratically elected officials seem ineffective in challenging police procedure has made me believe that a democratic society and Richmond police are not compatible.
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