Richmond police chief William Smith resigns, Va. governor proposes Juneteenth as state holiday

Richmond and Virginia State Police were armed with pepper spray canisters and riot gear at Grace and Madison streets on Monday. Photo by Hannah Eason

Eduardo Acevedo, News Editor

Andrew Ringle, Executive Editor

Chief William Smith of the Richmond Police Department has resigned at the request of Mayor Levar Stoney, who announced the change in leadership during a press conference on Tuesday. Captain William “Jody” Blackwell will step into the interim police chief role.

The former chief’s resignation comes after two consecutive nights of tense standoffs between officers and protesters at the police headquarters on Grace Street. On Monday, officers from Virginia State Police and RPD deployed pepper spray, flash bangs and what appeared to be tear gas on demonstrators gathered near the building’s parking garage.

“Interim Chief Blackwell is willing and able to focus on necessary public safety reforms,” Stoney said. “He will lead our healing and trust building within our community.”

Stoney said he is committed to reframing public safety with a focus on human services and community engagement.

“We have a good police department in the city of Richmond,” Stoney said. “I truly believe that. But I also believe we can be better.”

Stoney answered questions during the press conference regarding police’s recent use of non-lethal crowd control tactics, including tear gas and rubber bullets, at the RPD headquarters. He said there are some in Richmond who aim to undermine peaceful demonstrations and that police are committed to keeping city residents safe.

Gov. Ralph Northam was joined by community leaders and performing artist Pharrell Williams in an earlier press conference on Tuesday to propose June 19, known as Juneteenth, be a paid state holiday. The holiday will apply to state employees, although other corporations in Virginia have been asked to comply. 

Northam declared this Friday, June 19, a paid holiday for state employees. The proposal must go through the legislative process before establishing the date as an annual holiday.

Juneteenth commemorates the emancipation of enslaved African Americans, who received news of President Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation in Texas on June 19, 1865.

“The history we teach now is insufficient,” Northam said. “We must remember that black history is American history.”

Williams, a Grammy-awarded musician and Virginia Beach native, advocated for the observance of Juneteenth as a state holiday.

This is a big display of progress and I am grateful for Virginia for leading the way,” Williams said. “From this moment on, when you look at the vastness of the night sky, and you see those stars moving up there, know that those stars are our African ancestors dancing. They are dancing in celebration because their lives are finally being acknowledged.”

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