“I’m going to reiterate what I said before. My stance remains exactly as it was initially,” says Blanding, Peters’ older sister and vice principal at Essex High School, where he worked. “Marcus was unarmed, Marcus was clearly in need of help, he was in distress, and he should have received help, not death.”
Peters, a 24-year-old biology teacher, was reportedly on his way to the Jefferson Hotel where he worked as a part-time security guard, when he lost control of his car and struck two other vehicles at West Franklin and Belvidere streets.Witnesses say they saw him dancing and behaving erratically, while fully naked, around the interstate. Officer Michael Nyantakyi shot Peters, who died of gunshot wounds to the abdomen. Peters was unarmed.
While other family members chose not to view the footage, Blanding decided early on that she needed to see it for herself in order to move forward and help overhaul the system, a promise she says she made to her brother as he was buried.
“I came here because in order for me to continue to fight I needed to get as many pieces of the puzzle as I can, and seeing exactly what took place is a huge part of it,” Blanding says. “It makes it hard for me even to speak and continue to speak when I don’t have those pieces. I believe knowledge is power and I have received more knowledge, and I am going to continue to push forward with my power to fight for Marcus and to fight for reformation.”
According to the family’s lawyer, Jonathan Halperin, it’s clear from the footage that Nyantakyi knew that Peters was in crisis.
“There’s no question that Marcus was having a mental health episode,” Halperin says. “The officer recognized that. The issue is, what should have been done from the moment of recognition forward? And that’s what we’re going to investigate.”
Since Peters’ death, Blanding has been the steady, composed, vocal point person for the family. She says she and her large extended family (Peters was one of 12 children, with “too many cousins to count”) want justice. Not just for her brother, but for everyone who encounters law enforcement, and for the system as a whole. Blanding says Peters, who had no known history of mental health or drug-related issues, should have received compassion and help instead of a bullet. As she grieves the loss of her brother, she says she wants to work with police and see an improvement in trainings and methods for handling situations with people in distress.
According to Richmond Police Department spokesman James Mercante, the video will be released to the public now that the family has had a chance to view it privately. He did not say when that will be.
“It’s very hard for us to watch it, and it is hard to know that it’s going to be out there in the public,” Blanding says. “But there’s a lot of people who truly care, who want to know what happened or why did the officer feel justified in what he did. I don’t feel that it was justification, however, it may be insightful to some to just figure out: ‘OK, what happened to my brother who had the world in his hands, and it was all taken away.’”