Opinion | RPD, do you feel proud?

Illustration by Jayce Nguyen

Tagwa Shammet, Opinions Editor

This is a letter to the Richmond Police Department.

I am not here to attack you. I am not here to question you. I am simply here to understand.

Do you really think what you are doing to protesters is right? I find it difficult to believe that you see these people, fighting for their right to live, and think they deserve to be treated this way. The idea that they deserve to be beaten, tear gassed, arrested and assaulted simply because they have a purpose does not sit right with my soul.

I didn’t always see you all as the bad guys. I grew up respecting you. I saw cops as heroes; I understood them to be there as protectors and enforcers of what is meant to keep us safe. Then, as time progressed and I aged, I started seeing how much you hated Black people, how much our lives didn’t matter to you, how easily you abused your power in order to hurt us — to kill us. 

This is a letter to the Richmond Police Department.

Did you feel proud arresting those 17 people near Monroe Park on July 26? I’m not daft but I struggle to comprehend how you charged these protesters with an array of charges including: 


  • Trespassing

  • Pedestrian in roadway

  • False ID to police to avoid arrest

  • Rioting

  • Rioting with a dangerous weapon

  • Possession of cocaine with the intent to distribute

  • Transporting an assault rifle within city limits

  • Possession of a weapon with an extended magazine

  • Rioting with the possession of a deadly weapon

  • Blocking traffic

  • Driving without a seat belt

  • Drivers license not in possession

You didn’t even let people leave the park once you demanded they go. Andrew Ringle, executive editor at The Commonwealth Times, has a video of you grabbing him as he tries to exit the park. Ringle is a good friend of mine. I was truly terrified and concerned as I watched you harass and attack him. And it’s not the first time you have come after him. You also arrested my fellow peers who were VCU students and our SGA president-elect, Taylor Maloney. They are just students.

It’s one thing when people see the mess happening in Richmond; it’s another when you have to see your friends go through it. Ringle wasn’t even there to protest. He is a respected member of the press. He is the one that gives you recognition should you do something right. But you’re not giving him much to work with.

This is a letter to the Richmond Police Department.

How come when Second Amendment defenders took to the street in January you didn’t ask them to clear the way? I can somehow rationalize the separation of your policing with your politics, but I can’t see how you truly believe the Black Lives Matter movement, our movement, is one of terror and mayhem.

You say that we are the inciters of violence, but I become a bit confused when I see you walking around with your weapons of mass hysteria. Have you heard of the “weapons effect?” Leonard Berkowitz, professor of psychology at University of Wisconsin, said: “Guns not only permit violence, they can stimulate it as well.” Seeing your guns alone makes protesters feel unsafe. It insinuates that you are prepared to use violence on us should we not meet your expectations. 

You’ll have to excuse the fear that strikes us when we see tear gas canisters and guns — it’s not a good time to be Black in America. It never has been.

This is a letter to the Richmond Police Department.

I’m sure you’re wondering who I am or why you should care what I say. Well, my name is Tagwa Shammet. I am Black. I am Muslim. I am an immigrant. I am a woman. I am American. But, when people see me, they don’t see that last characteristic. They cannot comprehend that while my race, religion and gender might not fit the status quo, I am still an American at the end of the day. 

So, how do you think it feels to be me right now? I’ve been to protests. I’ve written stories. I’ve donated my time and money. I’ve educated myself and others. I’ve signed every petition I’ve seen. I’ve done my part. Yet, I still fear walking around the city at night. I haven’t been in Richmond these past months, but as I’ve returned for my studies, I am beyond nervous. There is a possibility, now more than ever, that you’ll mistake me for one of these “rioters” and arrest me.

I want to be a lawyer. I, too, want to uphold the law to the best of my capabilities. If you arrest me, you ruin my prospects of ever proving the negative stigma against me wrong. 

This is a letter to the Richmond Police Department.

I get that tensions are high. But, isn’t that the problem?

We’re here today because your training hasn’t shown you how to deescalate situations without violence. You are stronger than me, and more powerful with the backing of your weapons and the government. I am harmless. Yet still, you attack me and protesters with tear gas and rubber bullets and criminal charges. 

We tried to have a conversation with you at the Robert E. Lee monument, yet you refused to participate. I didn’t realize water balloons were such weapons of mass destruction.

Why are you so afraid of me? Is it because you’re coming to realize that the message I’m trying to deliver is one that makes sense? 

Black Lives Matter. I’m not saying yours don’t, I’m just reminding you that ours matter too.

This is a letter to the Richmond Police Department.

History is watching. Do you want to be on the wrong side of it?

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