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Princess Blanding: We Need Police Accountability, Not Just Statue Removal

a sign in the ground near the Robert E Lee statue designating the circle Marcus-David Peters circle
Some protesters in Richmond have unofficially renamed Lee Circle to Marcus-David Peters Circle. (Crixell Matthews/VPM News)

The statues along Richmond’s Monument Avenue have become a rallying point for anti-police brutality protests over the past week. While elected leaders have vowed to remove the monuments, activists are also looking beyond Confederate statues to policing reforms.

VPM’s Roberto Roldan recently talked with Princess Blanding, an activist and the sister of Marcus-David Peters. Peters was a high school Biology teacher, who was killed by Richmond Police in 2018 while having what Blanding says was a mental health crisis. 

Blanding began the interview by describing the George Floyd protests as “a breaking point” for the city and the nation:

Blanding: I feel like, as hurt as my family and I are, as hurt as I'm sure Mr. Floyd's family is, that our brothers were a sacrifice, to get us to the next level in the civil rights movement, and that we still have so far to go. So as far as the protest in Richmond, I'm overwhelmingly proud of the community in Richmond for taking a strong stand and not backing down and, across all nationalities, standing in unity to say no more, that Black lives matter. And not backing down even when they were being unjustly attacked by the police department. The protest that happened in Richmond is the reason why we will have the Marcus Alert. The protest that happened in Richmond is the reason why we will have a civilian review board with subpoena power. So I'm sorry that we have to do this, but it had to be done. Richmond is getting it done, the community is doing their thing.

Roldan: One of the things you highlighted is what’s been dubbed a Marcus Alert System. Can you explain what that is? 

Blanding: The Marcus Alert will call on mental health professionals to be the first responder to a suspected or to a confirmed mental health crisis, instead of our police officers who are equipped to take out the problem, you know, to end it with deadly force. So although our mental health experts will be the first responders. Police officers or a police officer will be present as well, as backup in the event that things get out of control. But they will only utilize non-lethal forces, such as a net gun, such as a baton, such as hand to hand combat, you know, and so on. So, you know, with the Marcus number and I like to call it a Marcus alert system, uh, because a Marcus alert is not going to be effective if we don't have police accountability. 

Roldan: What do you think civilian review of police complaints and use-of-force will accomplish?

I look at Marcus and his situation. His death was ruled justifiable. We were told and promised that there will be an internal investigation on behavior of the officer. And if it happened, there was never any follow up. My brother's entire situation was swept under the rug. We have heard countless times from community members who have made complaints to the police department about the conduct of other officers, and there was never any follow through. Our community does not feel safe. They need to feel safe knowing that if we're going to have officers out in our communities, that when they step out of the professional and ethical roles that they are in, that they're hired to be in, and now endanger our communities, that they will be reprimanded, that there will be accountability. 

Roldan: These demands are similar to what your family and other activists were asking for back in 2018. What’s different now?

Blanding: It took the city raising hell for lack of better words, as far as not backing down with our peaceful protest, in order for them to say, ‘Okay, what needs to happen in order for this to end?’ And it's not just about Marcus, but as far as the City of Richmond, Marcus’ situation was a key situation that is very parallel to what happened with George Floyd. With the city of Richmond, seeing the uproar of the community members, as far as protesting within the city, on a state level, and national level, they’re scared! And they want this to come to an end! And so at this point, they're saying, ‘Okay, now we see, now we hear, we get it. What do we need to do? This is what you all want. It is reasonable and we should have had it in place. Let's get it done now.

After the interview was recorded, the Peters family updated their list of demands to include reopening the Marcus-David Peters case and diverting police funding to social services. You can find their updated list of demands here.