Correction: A previous version of this article incorrectly indicated Marcus-David Peters was killed at The Jefferson Hotel. Peters was shot and killed on Interstate-95.
Zareen Farhad, Contributing Writer
Princess Blanding is the sister of Marcus-David Peters, a 24-year-old Black high school biology teacher and VCU alumnus who was fatally shot by a Richmond police officer in 2018.
After the killing of her brother, Blanding became an outspoken grassroots activist for racial justice, criminal justice reform and mental health accessibility. In December, the career educator announced her bid for Virginia governor under the newly formed Liberation Party.
Peters graduated from VCU in 2016. Blanding says he was experiencing a mental health crisis when he was shot three times on Interstate-95 by Officer Michael Nyantakyi. His death was ruled twice as a justifiable homicide.
“The thought process behind the third party started to push into gear this summer, during the Richmond uprise, among community members within Richmond and beyond,” Blanding said. “It started from the disappointment and failures of the Democratic Party.”
Blanding said one challenge the Liberation Party faces is persuading frustrated, typically Democratic voters that there is a viable alternative to voting for a major party.
“As the Liberation party, we are here to say that there is a better option,” Blanding said. “There is an option that is going to prioritize the needs of the people and not allow profit nor politics to be put over that.”
Blanding said the difference between the Liberation Party and the Democratic Party is that the former calls for more progressive, comprehensive and immediate change on issues affecting marginalized Virginians, such as ending qualified immunity.
Qualified immunity is a legal principle that protects a government official from lawsuits alleging that the official violated a plaintiff’s rights, according to Cornell Law School. It only allows suits in which an official violated a “clearly established” statutory or constitutional right.
Blanding said that with control of the entire state legislature, Democrats are capable of critical reforms yet continually fail to deliver meaningful legislation.
According to Blanding’s campaign website, the Liberation Party’s platform includes criminal and racial justice, environmental justice, education, housing, healthcare, LGBTQIA+ rights, labor and food sovereignty.
“The Liberation Party is a fearless party, we believe in raising up strong leaders who are going to be courageous voices for the unheard,” Blanding said.
Blanding said the Liberation Party ultimately aims to achieve what the Democratic Party of Virginia has not been able to do due to party interests and political gains, such as ending qualified immunity. In Blanding’s critique, the two-party system offers incremental legislation and does not allow voters to hold their legislators accountable.
Junior political science major and President of VCU Young Democrats Anthony Belotti said both parties are experiencing division on a national scale.
“There is a visible divide but I don’t think that’s necessarily abnormal, or even worrisome yet,” Belotti said.
Political science professor Jatia Wrighten said the emergence of third parties is a healthy format for democracy that increases representation.
“At the end of the day, what third parties are doing is pressuring these two major parties to take up platforms that matter to more than just them,” Wrighten said. “That’s an important advantage and benefit to having more parties.”
Wrighten said third parties typically struggle to win elected positions. Lack of name recognition, fundraising, and political track record all push voters toward more familiar party affiliations. Even at the elected level, there is a steep challenge presented in the institutional processes of passing legislation.
The professor also said experienced legislators in the race — such as former Del. Jennifer Carroll Foy and Sen. Jennifer McClellan of the Virginia General Assembly — are accustomed to having to get policy passed through both the House of Delegates and the state Senate.
“No matter how much we want things to be passed quickly as voters, there is an institutionalized process that, in its nature, makes it so that progress is incremental and a lot slower,” Wrighten said.
Blanding joins a crowded field of diverse candidates in the gubernatorial race. Two other Black women, Foy and McClellan, are running in the Democratic primary.
“It’s exciting that there are different representations of Black women at this level,” Wrighten said.
The gubernatorial presents the potential for Virginia to elect its first female governor and for the U.S. to see its first Black female governor.
“I think one of the major takeaways should be that yes, Black women have similar interests, however, the speed at which we feel that these policies should be implemented are definitely different,” Wrighten said.
Wrighten said that although Blanding’s issue with the Democratic Party is that it is not progressive enough, the Liberation Party has not adopted a different platform altogether. Wrighten said many of the issues Blanding is running on are also issues that Foy and McClellan prioritize, and that Blanding’s presence in the race may help shape their stances on such issues.