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Police Officials and Reform Activists Meet at VSU

Officers listen as VSU Professor Zoe Spencer delivers remarks to the Regional Policing Leadership Taskforce. (Photo: Alan Rodriguez Espinoza/VPM News)

Police chiefs and officers sat down with local activists Friday at Virginia State University. They met as part of the new Regional Policing Leadership Taskforce, which aims to find common ground between law enforcement and reform advocates.

The taskforce was spearheaded by community organizer and VSU sociology professor Zoe Spencer. She told reporters she felt humbled to have the opportunity to speak with police leadership about community concerns.

“As a mom to a Black son, and as a professor and an auntie to my students here at Virginia State University, I feel blessed that they answered the call,” Spencer said.

The taskforce includes VSU faculty, local activists, and police officials for Petersburg, Chesterfield, Richmond, and several other localities. Richmond Police Chief Gerald Smith said the meeting brought up important questions.

“What are the values of the police and generally what should they be doing and how should we be responding to our communities,” Smith asked.

VSU President Makola Abdullah says he hopes the taskforce can support students fighting for social justice. He says HBCUs “play a critical role” in guiding conversations of race and policing.

“I think it’s important for Virginia State University to leverage its history, leverage the passion that you heard with Dr. Spencer, and the commitment of police chiefs around the area to see what we can do to produce change,” Abdullah told reporters after the taskforce meeting.

Virginia Sen. Joe Morrissey (D-Richmond) also took part in the conversation. He praised the work of the General Assembly in advancing several police reform initiatives, including banning chokeholds and no-knock warrants during the current special session. 

Spencer said one of the main obstacles in her work is misconceptions of both police and the Black community. She called on people to unlearn negative stigmas and stereotypes in order to find common ground.

“We all came here with the common goal of addressing the issues. A commitment to opening the communication between police and the community, and most importantly, to continuing to doing the work,” Spencer said.

While no specific date has been set, the taskforce plans to meet again in October.

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