Eduardo Acevedo, News Editor
A VCU student organization is demanding the university defund and abolish its police department, joining the Richmond facet of a nationwide movement seeking change in law enforcement and justice for those killed by police.
Student organization VCU Student Power held a protest outside Cabell Library on Wednesday to honor Marcus-David Peters. Members and local activists spoke at the demonstration, some saying the VCU Police department is contributing to “over-policing” in Richmond.
Peters, a 24-year-old VCU alumnus and high school biology teacher, was killed in 2018 by Richmond police while unarmed and experiencing a mental health crisis.
Around 100 protesters gathered in the Compass, where Peters’ name was written in chalk on the ground and walls.
Organizers taped three banners to the windows of the closed library that read “drop the charges,” “defund the police” and “stop the evictions.” Protesters taped fliers listing the demands on the library windows and revolving doors.
Protesters have taped the list of demands and written “Abolish VCUPD” on the windows of the library and have written Marcus-David Peters name all over the compass in chalk. pic.twitter.com/5mBockjF8a
— EdEdd&Eddy (@edace2936) July 22, 2020
5th District City Council candidate Nicholas Da Silva asked crowd members to raise their hands if they had experienced a negative interaction with VCU Police. Nearly half of the group had a hand raised.
“This is because the VCUPD has a history and a track record, not just of abusing and harming the students here but of the residents of this very city,” Da Silva said. “We are over-policing the black residents of this city with the VCUPD.”
According to the 2019 VCU Police Biased-Based Policing Annual Review, 17 out of 20, or 85%, of use of force incidents involved a Black person. Three incidents involved a white person.
Out of 20 total use of force incidents, 19 were deemed “justified” after an internal review or administrative investigation. Of the 19 “justified” incidents, seven resulted in officers receiving additional training.
Princess Blanding, a sister of Peters, spoke during the protest about her brother‘s life and the love he had for his students.
Blanding said Peters gravitated toward students who were kicked out of other classes and written off by other teachers.
“As his sister, I can tell you that Marcus was truly an amazing young man,” Blanding said. “He was an amazing brother, he was an amazing mentor and he was an amazing community member.”
Community organizer and VCU Student Power mentor Kalia Harris urged the crowd to pay attention to the VCU Board of Visitors meetings where tuition, the university budget and reopening campus are discussed.
“Are y’all really going to pay for VCU Zoom University and be alright with that shit? Y’all, they are gutting you for money to police us,” Harris said. “They’re not giving you what you deserve as students.”
Harris works with Virginia Student Power Network, a statewide group of student organizations focusing on education and social, racial and economic justice. As a mentor, Harris helps VCU’s group organize and plan political actions.
Student government president-elect Taylor Maloney read the names of VCU Police’s 95 sworn-in officers. More than 200 additional security personnel assist campus police.
“On behalf of the student body, we would like to have your positions terminated effective immediately,” Maloney said after reading the names. “This campus is henceforth a no-cop zone. We don’t want you here.”
Maloney, a VCU Student Power member, said the money that funds campus police officer salaries could go toward student workers and leaders that get paid a “measly $8.50 an hour, sometimes less.”
Steven Ramlogan, a senior political science major and vice president of VCU Student Power, said there was “a lot of power” in naming the officers.
“A lot of times we’re told to hold VCU administration and VCUPD accountable, but when you have names of those people, you can directly take action to hold those individuals accountable,” Ramlogan said.
VCU Student Power organizer Starr Robinson said the main focus of the protest on VCU’s campus was to align the community demands with student demands, and to put pressure on university administrators. The senior political science and criminal justice major said it’s difficult to have demands fully met by those in power.
“They’ll give you 30, 40, 50 percent, they’ll try to meet you at their version of halfway,” Robinson said, “but it’s not what the community is asking for.”
Ongoing demands of Richmond protesters:
- Re-open the Marcus-David Peters case
- Defund police
- Drop all charges against protesters
- Removal of all monuments to white supremacy
- Establishment of an independent civilian review board separate from Richmond Police
- Fully funded Marcus Alert system for mental health crises
- Names of RPD officers under investigation for use-of-force misconduct
The Marcus Alert system would deploy mental health professionals as first responders on calls involving a mental health crisis. Richmond Mayor Levar Stoney expressed support for the measure during a press conference on June 1.
Stoney introduced a Task Force to Reimagine Public Safety on July 10, but some community activists have expressed concern over the board’s makeup. Members of the task force include two active and one retired RPD officers. VCU’s associate provost, Lisa Moon, and two VCU professors are also members of the task force.
The City of Richmond has removed all but one Confederate monument and will begin releasing the names of RPD officers indicted on excessive use of force charges.
VCU Student Power organizer Mikey Ramlogan, a junior political science major, said protesters are past the removal of monuments and want to see a change in law enforcement. Mikey Ramlogan said the city has heard the demands by protesters but officials have been slow to act.
“I don’t think that the local government really has done enough in the past 50 days, or in the past 20 to 30 years in Richmond,” Mikey Ramlogan said.
Before the protest took place on Wednesday afternoon, VCU Student Power posted virtual fliers on social media urging VCU students to attend and show support.
“It’s important to note that we’re here at this university,” Mikey Ramlogan said, “but we also represent the community.”