VPM News Photo Year-in-Review: Protests
As this momentous year comes to a close, VPM News is looking back at our top stories and photos of 2020 for our first ‘year in review’ series. Please check back every day this week to see some of our best photos from Crixell Matthews, Coleman Jennings, Craig Carper and Alex Scribner. Monday’s segment was on the legislative session, and yesterday we shared photos from the pandemic.
Amid national protests over police misconduct, sparked by the killing of George Floyd by a Minneapolis police officer, people took to the streets of Richmond, demanding justice for Black men and women killed by police.
Protesters called for defunding the police and completely reforming the criminal justice system. Among the men and women they demanded justice for were Breonna Taylor, who was killed by Louisville police, and Marcus-David Peters, a high school teacher who experienced a mental health crisis in 2018 and was killed by a Richmond police officer.
Buildings were tagged with anti-police graffiti, a bus was burned, and national headlines were made after uses of force the police chief would deem excessive and unwarranted. The incident that garnered the most attention nationally was the tear gassing of a peaceful crowd on Monument Avenue.
In August, Ben Paviour and Roberto Roldan would tally up how much police spent on tear gas, vans and meals: Over $200,000.
After residents confronted the then-chief, and Mayor Levar Stoney, on the steps of city hall, Stoney announced he was replacing the chief with an acting chief. That acting chief, William Blackwell, was quickly replaced after he expressed frustration with protesters and questions arose about his past.
Throughout the protests, activists largely stuck to a consistent list of demands spearheaded by Princess Blanding, a police reform activist and sister of Marcus-David Peters who announced a run for governor yesterday. They included reopening an investigation into the killing of Peters and defunding the police to fund a civilian review board and mental health professionals for first responders.
Activists dubbed the traffic circle around a monument to Robert E. Lee the "Marcus-David Peters' Circle," and the New York Times declared the site the most influential work of protest art since World War II. It became a central gathering spot and center of racial justice protests, and also hosted community events, like basketball games and cook-outs. Signs were placed to memorialize Black men and women killed by police.
City and state government acted swiftly on only the last of six demands: The removal of Confederate statues. At this time, only the Robert E. Lee statue remains, in the middle of a traffic circle activists dubbed the Marcus-David Peters’ Circle, which has become a gathering place and community space.
Families celebrated the removal of Confederate statues in large crowds that cheered as cranes lifted the metal figures.
Cellist Beth Almore played as crews prepared to remove a statue to "Stonewall" Jackson. She told VPM News the statues were "psychological terror," and said their removal was symbolic but important. As the statue was lifted off its pedestal, a church bell tolled.