Since the 2018 shooting death of Marcus-David Peters by a Richmond police officer during a mental health crisis, his sister, Princess Blanding, has campaigned for reform that would prevent similar mental health episodes from leading to death at the hands of law enforcement.
Blanding says 2020 brought new attention to Peters’ case after the May police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis sparked protests across the country.
In 2018, she notes, marchers paid the city for permits to protest for Peters. In 2020, people took to the streets without asking permission. They renamed the area around the Robert E. Lee equestrian statue on Monument Avenue Marcus David Peters Circle,” facing police tear gas and white supremacist threats.
In November, amid legislative movement that would coordinate police response to mental health episodes to prevent violence, the Richmond Commonwealth’s Attorney’s Office simultaneously announced it would not reopen an investigation into Peters’ death.
Below, Blanding reflects on 2020 and hints at plans for 2021. She filed for a gubernatorial run a few days before:
“George Floyd’s murder was the last straw for this nation.
“Being at the officer’s mercy already, crying for his mother, saying he can’t breathe, it had to hit everyone. We could all relate, whether we are someone’s child or a parent – seeing someone plead for their lives.
“As hard as [Peters’ killing] hurt, both of them unjustified, it just hit differently the way it went down [with Floyd]. Seeing these heartless officers take his life without any thought. Treating him far less than a human.
“I have not, and will not, watch the full footage. It’s too much. 2020 has been a year.
“Many elected officials had come-to-Jesus moments on things we were calling for in 2018 and beyond. Now, we’re seeing [Mayor Levar] Stoney make a U-turn and say, ‘We need a Marcus Alert,’ when he had been giving us the cold shoulder. We had state legislators saying, ‘We need the Marcus Alert bill statewide.’
“I questioned them, and challenged them, and my gut feelings and the red flags have proven to be very valid. It was a smoke show to pacify the people. Their motions were disingenuous. If they wanted a Marcus Alert, they could have done it in 2018.
“Knowledge is power. And when you know better, you do better. You don’t have to still be on the streets to be fighting. Going to City Council and state legislators is also part of the equation. We clearly see we aren’t getting what we deserve.”
“I have not seen any legislative achievements. We have a Democratic majority and governor and they killed qualified immunity [for police]. The same thing with the [Civilian Review Board] bill.
“You can’t have your knee on my neck and reach to help me up at the same time. No one can give good justification for why the Virginia Democratic Party did not pass progressive bills that ensure a mental health crisis will not lead to death.
“[The site of the Lee statue] is a space reclaimed for the people, by the people. We don’t have any other spaces like that. The odds were against us and continue to be against us. Calling it the Marcus-David Peters circle is symbolic. But the energy, the story, means a lot to me. When I go out there, I see Black people, white people, kids, dogs. That’s one space where people are free to just be.
“We will keep fighting. We have to prepare ourselves to move to a different level. Princess has not gone anywhere. They expect us to drop the mic at protesting and reclaiming spaces. What they don’t expect us to do is unite and actually be strategic in our planning to get the changes we deserve.”Back to The Year in Review