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Protesters Demand Action After Police Attack Peaceful Demonstrators

people gather at city hall
SLIDESHOW: Around a thousand people gather outside Richmond's City Hall to demand action from city leaders, among them is Princess Blanding, sister of Marcus David Peters. (Photo: Crixell Matthews/VPM)

After four days of demonstrations and reports of police violence, city residents took to Richmond City Hall to demand accountability from Mayor Levar Stoney and Police Chief William Smith on Tuesday.

Before noon, a crowd of roughly a thousand convened and chanted for Stoney to come out. The mayor had announced he'd be there to apologize after Richmond Police gassed peaceful protesters at the Robert E. Lee statue on Monument Avenue Monday night. Richmond’s Police Chief later called the tear gas being deployed an “unwarranted action,” and that the officers involved were pulled from the field and disciplined. 

Amid jeers, Stoney struggled to speak over the crowd until organizers gave him a megaphone. The mayor offered apologies, as the crowd yelled questions at him about video recordings of police using pepper spray and tear gas on  demonstrators throughout the weekend.

Many also described unequal treatment at the hands of the police, and demanded the firing of any officer found to have used excessive force against protesters. 

“Tell us their badge numbers so we can hold them accountable,” said Princess Blanding, sister of Marcus David Peters, a man shot and killed by Richmond Police while going through a mental health crisis in 2018.

 “You say you stand with us, that’s not standing with us, going to the governor and asking for policies that get people arrested and now there’s 230 people in jail,” Blading said, referring to the city’s curfew approved by Gov. Ralph Northam earlier this week.

Crowd members also asked Stoney to explain why he wasn't with them at their march. 

Stoney promised to join a march tonight, starting at the Capitol at 6 p.m. and ending at the Lee statue. He told the crowd that he’d reform "a system that doesn't always work for us."

"I can't stand here today and give you every single answer," Stoney said. "But what I can do is commit to you that Sunday will never happen again. I will march with you. I will stand with you. I will be with you."

Police Chief Will Smith ensured that officers involved are being investigated, and disciplinary actions will be taken. But Smith told reporters he’s “not sure” what those actions will look like until all body-cam footage is reviewed. 

“When there is nonviolent protest we are going to take no action,” Smith said. “I don’t really care about the curfew if everyone’s being nonviolent.”

Stoney also appeared to commit to a number of reforms around police use of force. Attendees seemed dissatisfied with both officials’ promises — including community organizer Chelsea Higgs Wise. 

“I am hopeful that the city council and people are listening, but I am still very skeptical of the long term coordination to have more community control over our policing,” Higgs Wise said. “Trust has been lost and they need action quickly and swiftly from the police department, from the mayor, as well as from the Commonwealth’s Attorney.”