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Blanding on Marcus Alert Bill Signing “Fix It”

bill signing
Photo via Governor Northam's office.

Two years ago, Richmond Police shot and killed a 24-year old Black man named Marcus-David Peters who was experiencing a mental health crisis. Today, Virginia’s governor signed a bill into law that he says will help prevent incidents like this moving forward. Peters’ family isn’t so sure. 

The ”mental health awareness response and community understanding services alert system” is a mouthful. But most people know the legislation as the Marcus Alert bill, in honor of Peters, who was a beloved high school biology teacher. 

Gov. Ralph Northam technically signed the bill into law in November but used the ceremonial signing Tuesday to highlight its importance. 

“This alert system is one way we can help keep people safer and save lives,” Northam said. “We want people to get the help that they need.”

The system sets up a framework for mental health professionals to respond to calls for services that involve a mental or behavioral health crisis, minimizing the role of law enforcement. 

Northam invited Peters’ sister, Princess Blanding, to speak at the ceremony and thanked her for her advocacy and work to bring attention to the problem.  

The final bill doesn’t create a unified statewide system and will take several years to set up. Blanding worked with lawmakers at the beginning of the special session but said she was disappointed by the final bill.  

“Please take a moment to pat yourselves on the back for doing exactly what this racist, corrupt system, and broken may I also add, expected you all to do; make the Marcus alert bill a watered-down, ineffective bill that will continue to ensure that having a mental health crisis results in a death sentence,” Blanding said during the ceremony. 

She also criticized Democrats for failing to pass a bill that requires localities to create a civilian review board for police departments and thwarting legislation to end qualified immunity for police. 

Blanding said the inaction has made her even more resolute in her fight to ensure lawmakers pass meaningful legislation. 

“You all have absolutely succeeded in lighting a fire in me and so many others that is impossible to take out. I say to each and every one of you, fix it.”

Del. Jeff Bourne carried the bill in the special session. His original legislation, which got approval from Peters’ family, would have limited the weapons police could use when responding to calls for service, and in some instances, require they be in civilian clothing. 

Whittney Evans is VPM News’ features editor.
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