Selna Shi, Contributing Writer
Nearly three years after a Richmond police officer fatally shot VCU alumnus and high school teacher Marcus-David Peters, a local activist group honors him in a space around the Robert E. Lee statue on Monument Avenue.
“Facilitating the community space is something that we have made our main initiative,” stated Lawrence West, the founder of Black Lives Matter RVA in an Instagram direct message.
The space was unofficially named Marcus-David Peters Circle by protesters in late June. Black Lives Matter advocates transformed the space into a recreational area with community gardens.
“The space is the venue where we honor those who have died in senseless violence because of systemic oppression,” West said.
Peters taught biology at Essex High School. His family says he was experiencing a mental health crisis while driving down Interstate 95.
Peters was naked and unarmed when Officer Michael Nyantakyi encountered him, according to Commonwealth’s Attorney Colette McEachin’s report. Nyantakyi tased Peters to “no effect,” and an autopsy report revealed Peters was shot three times.
The case of Peters’ death was reviewed by former Commonwealth’s Attorney Michael Herring, who determined the shooting was justified. Peters’ family and protesters urged McEachin to reopen the case as part of the organization known as Justice and Reformation.
McEachin reopened the case after reviewing her predecessor’s report and concluded the shooting was justified.
Princess Blanding, Peters’ sister and Virginia’s gubernatorial candidate, stated that her brother “needed help, not death” while experiencing his crisis.
Blanding stated she is not available for press interviews due to campaigning for the gubernatorial election.
On Jan. 25, the Virginia Department of General Services erected a fence around the circle. People are no longer allowed to enter the space.
The community garden is still at Marcus-David Peters Circle, however, the basketball hoops have been taken down. A gardener who tends the circle, who goes by Bee, has not been able to enter the space to tend the plants and watches overgrown weeds take over the gardens.
“They said the fences were put up in preparation of removing the statue, but they have yet taken it down because they keep postponing it,” Bee said.
The Virginia Department of General Services is awaiting legal resolutions from the Circuit Court of Virginia before removing the statue. Judge W. Reilly Marchant issued a ruling in October that the statue could come down, but two Monument Avenue residents filed appeals on Feb. 12.
Dena Potter, a spokesperson for the Virginia Department of General Services, stated in an email that the fence was put up in preparation for the removal of the statue.
The American Civil Liberties Union of Virginia called for the fences to be taken down in a letter, claiming that First Amendment rights have been violated as the space was a place for “gatherings, demonstrations and mutual aid sits.”
“Marcus is a reminder that many people still need mental health support and that our work here is not finished yet,” Bee said. Gov.
Ralph Northam signed the “Marcus Alert” bill in November of 2020, which established a statewide mental health response system. The bill will require law enforcement to work with mental health service providers when responding to individuals experiencing mental health episodes. The Marcus Alert will roll out in all Virginia localities starting July 1.