Sarah Elson Contributing Writer
Hundreds of marchers donning maroon took to the streets demanding justice and reformation for the death of Marcus-David Peters, who was fatally shot May 14 by a Richmond police officer off Interstate 95.
“We have gathered here today to put on notice each and every elected official that chooses to remain silent when these matters of injustice transpire,” said Antonio Redd, associate minister at Second Baptist Church, West End. “We are not making empty threats, but we have come back to this place to remind everyone who have not washed their hands clean of this unjust killing of our brother that we will replace you with someone who has the audacity to stand up for what is right.”
Marchers convened at the Siegel Center to rally before the event began. The Richmond march was hosted by the organization Justice and Reformation for Marcus-David Peters — which formed after Peters’ death — alongside several other civil rights groups including Amnesty International at VCU and New Virginia Majority. At the Siegel Center, members of the organizations handed out signs and relayed chants to participants. The Richmond march took place along Broad Street, escorted by police officers hired by Justice and Reformation.
Marches for justice and reformation took place in other locations across the country — including Dallas, Las Vegas, Baltimore, New York, Atlanta, Miami, Philadelphia and other cities — in a national effort to increase accountability for police officers who use violent force.
Justice and Reformation asked participants to sign a petition to pursue a list of demands for local politicians — one to create a “Marcus Alert” which would requires that first responders be mental health professionals, another to create a “civilian review board” in cities to allow citizens subpoena power and easier access to police personnel records.
Peters’ sister Princess Blanding said this march was a necessity.
“It’s not something we’re doing to celebrate or have fun — or to just mobilize and say we did it,” Blanding said. “We’re marching to hold our elected officials and our police departments accountable for the unjust killings of black and brown people at the hands of those who are sworn to protect and serve.”
The march began at the Siegel Center, where Peters graduated from VCU. Marchers proceeded to the Jefferson Hotel — one of the last places Peters was seen before his death — before congregating at the Richmond Police Headquarters on Grace Street.
The march stopped at the hotel to highlight the Peters family’s frustration with what they believed to be lack of action by staff to prevent the events that led to his death. The family said they believe the hotel should have called one of Peters’ emergency contacts rather than the police when he stormed off from work in the midst of what appeared to be mental health crisis earlier that day.
The marchers shouted “shame, shame!” as hotel workers and guests watched the scene unfold.
Lacette Cross, a pastor at Restoration Fellowship, gave a speech outside the hotel admonishing Peters’ coworkers for exhibiting implicit bias during the apparent mental health crisis.
“There are racist power structures at play which prevented seemingly good and well-intentioned folks — who worked with Marcus [Peters], who saw Marcus, who spoke to Marcus,” Cross said. “And instead of calling for help, they called the police.”
The Jefferson Hotel did not respond to requests for comment.
Several other groups showed support for Peters and Justice and Reformation, including Advancement Project, ICE Out of RVA and Second Baptist Church, West End.
Among the groups was a coalition called the Richmond Transparency Accountability Project, which focuses on establishing a civilian board to review police personnel records and creating transparency between civilians and the Richmond police department.
“I’m out here because there’s an epidemic. Black men are being systematically murdered — it’s genocide,” participant Mary Atkins said. “Because of the color of my skin, I am charged with a mission of privilege where I have to speak up, stand out.”
The march continued until the crowd reached the Richmond Police Headquarters. VCU political science professor and department chair Ravi Perry gave a speech detailing the history of police brutality.
“The context of Peters’ death — caused by a black officer in a police department with a black chief who reports to a black mayor — complicates the structural inequalities present in police departments across the country,” Perry said.
Perry said the death of VCU alumnus Marcus-David Peters is a tragedy that extends far beyond the scope of the university or the City of Richmond.
“Let’s be honest,” Perry said. “It’s a bit easier for some of us to rally when the cop is white, when the chief is white, when the mayor is white. But the tragedy of Marcus reminds us that this was never about a few bad apples. I don’t know about you, but I’ve had a bad apple, and it doesn’t taste like murder.”
After Perry spoke, Blanding gave a speech to end the march. She recalled the events of the day of the shooting for the crowd.
“On May 14, 2018, Marcus was unarmed, completely undressed, and experiencing a mental health crisis,” she said. “My brother Marcus-David Peters needed help, not death.”
For more information concerning future events with Justice and Reformation, visit the group’s website justiceandreformation.org.