Restoring Peace, Building Equity, & Reimagining Public Safety

Over the past several weeks, Richmond has navigated a level of civil unrest not seen for many decades. Marches for justice and equity have filled our streets for days with demands for change. No longer satisfied with incremental change, but demanding transformative change. The First Amendment is perhaps America’s most incredible freedom, protecting the freedom of speech allows for all people to speak up, share their frustrations, and demand change. I have joined in with several of the protests over the past couple of weeks, marching along Monument Avenue and Monroe Park. The chants for justice, equity, and change are amazing. That is why I supported the call to remove the confederate statues, implementation of the Marcus Alert, the creation of an independent Community Review Board, and reimagine how we fund our cities priorities to build equity for all.

During the last two weeks, the peaceful daytime marches have given way to unsafe, dangerous, and even the unlawful removal of statues at night. Rioting and looting of local businesses is unlawful and unacceptable. This reckless behavior does not align with the chants and demands of others and must stop. Allow the public process to respond. Many of these statues have been up for many decades, some more than a century. I ask for you to allow the government, both the City of Richmond and the State of Virginia, to do its job and responsibly remove the statues we have publicly committed to taking them down.

I do not condone the use of pepper spray, tear gas, or rubber bullets on protesters. Almost every morning, I watch as the latest incident of the use of these non-lethal agents on protesters from the night before. Enough is enough. We are not going to be able to restore trust and civility in our response to these demands when this type of force is used on citizens expressing their frustrations and desires for change.

I am making the following demands from the Mayor, the Administration and Richmond Police to address this situation:

  1. Public Review of RPD’s “Use of Force” Policy — make available to the public the full policy that defines RPD’s use of force by police officers.
  2. Review Use of Non-Lethal Force — details and explanation for each use of tear gas, pepper spray, rubber bullets, flashbangs, and other non-lethal on protesters over the past three weeks.
  3. Explanation and definition of how a protest becomes ‘unlawful.’
  4. Banning knee and other chokehold restraints — while specific techniques might be needed to subdue a suspect of a crime, once restrained, any further physical restraint must be banned.
  5. Requiring officers to intervene — if an officer observes an excessive use of force and does not intervene, they are held liable for the actions of each other.
  6. Full review of Qualified Immunity — given the above reforms and those currently being proposed by the General Assembly, officers are found guilty of using excessive force that results in physical injury or harm to others, they are able to be held liable for those injuries.
  7. Advocate for a National Registry for Police Misconduct — if an officer is found guilty of misconduct, racist behaviors, or excessive use of force and they leave one police department for another, those charges follow them in their next position. No longer can we allow the actions of an officer to remain hidden, and RPD should not be hiring new officers with a history of misconduct.

It is time to take the demands yelled in the streets and turn them into action in City Hall.

As Chair of the Government Operations Standing Committee for City Council, I am committed to making this committee available to meet as often as required to take action on policy, legislation, and budget adjustments. I have worked to focus the meeting on Thursday, June 25th at noon on defining the process for which the City will remove the remaining statues on Monument Avenue. The City Attorney and other staff will provide the first look into the legal and operational steps to achieve this commitment. Actions of City Council typically take two weeks to introduce and another two weeks to debate and vote on, I worked diligently to expedite this process. I remain committed to using my experience from working at City Hall to lead the changes being demanded.

Reimagining Public Safety: Building Equity in RVA

I have championed several budget and transparency initiatives in my first term on City Council. Transparency in the budget has been a priority of mine since my campaign in 2016. I have pushed open data and open government legislation to make more government data publicly available. In the last nine months, I have built on this new level of accountability to launch a Participatory Budgeting planning program that will put in the hands of the public the decision for where their money is spent. In February, City Council approved the creation of the OpenBudgetRVA website (based off of Oakland, CA’s). These are currently in process of being implemented. The recent calls to ‘defund the police’ are founded in demands to fund our priorities differently. We must focus on prioritizing our budget priorities on equity building initiatives that address priorities around affordable housing, homelessness, eviction diversion, mental health, social services, and community wealth building. Most importantly, we as a local government must cede power to Richmonders and rebuild trust within all of our communities.

  1. Police Response to Emergency & Non-emergency Calls: when a call for a non-life-threatening situation, non-criminal activity, or social service need, the response by an armed, body armor-wearing, and uniformed officer in a flashing blue light car is not the resources needed. A call for homeless assistance, mental health crisis, addiction, or other non-life-threatening situations needs a trained, resourced, and responsive person to assist, not a police officer. Police response to these types of non-emergency calls can cause added stress and friction to the situation and the help needed in the situation is not provided. For more context: San Fran Police Reforms and Eugene, OR’S CAHOOTS.

2. Analysis of RPD’s Response to Non-Emergency and Non-Criminal calls for service. RPD’s staffing and budget are directly connected to calls for service and coverage of the City. By reimagining the public safety services needed, we can better allocate funds to not only respond, but resolve the situation peacefully.

3. Minimizing Traffic Stops: improving the safety of our streets has been a priority of mine since I took office, however, adding additional police officers to support traffic enforcement is not the only solution. Traffic stops have historically been the cause of racial profiling by police officers and are often used as a way to escalate into a possible arrest. I am going to lobby the General Assembly to allow for the use of smart city technology to enforce speed limits and red-lights to make our City safer and mail tickets to violators. This will also minimize future potential conflicts between citizens and police.

4. Bail Reform and Alternatives to Incarceration: I will work with the community, our General Assembly delegation, and the Richmond Sheriff’s Department to develop proposals for bail reform and establishing alternatives to incarceration. If we want to reimagine public safety and justice in our city, we take a hard look at expanding pretrial interventions, restorative justice programs, and ending cash bail statewide.

Throughout Richmond’s long history as a city, there have been many intentional decisions made by its leadership that have been racist. The decision to build the I-95/64 highway was intentionally built to destroy the then-thriving African-American community of Jackson Ward. Temporary housing was built for the now displaced residents, which have become the neighborhoods of our public housing today. In the 1970s, the Downtown Expressway was built, destroying the African-American Randolph neighborhood. The Richmond we see today was built over many decades with the goal of suppressing African-Americans. Today, our public housing neighborhoods are where most of our social services resources are used, a majority of our police presence is observed, and is where other community wealth building efforts are focused. Now is the time to reimagine what an equitable Richmond looks like. One that is focused on building inclusive, diverse, and equitable communities. Integrating a variety of affordable options for families with access to robust public transit, quality public schools, jobs, and other quality of life amenities. For the first time in Richmond’s history, we can imagine a future city that embraces our differences, celebrates our diversity, and is intentionally inclusive and build it together.

Recovering bureaucrat. Pioneered as Civic Innovator. Now serving a second term on City Council in Richmond, VA. Words are my own.