A judge, Richmond's chief of police and a former Virginia NAACP director were among a dozen panelists who gathered last Wednesday to address issues surrounding the shooting of unarmed black teen Michael Brown in Missouri in August.
For Police Chief Ray Tarasovic, it was an opportunity to stress his department's community outreach programs. "We've got to engage," he said. "Trust doesn't get developed by saying, 'Trust me.' Trust does not get developed by saying, 'I'm a good guy.'"
Tarasovic sat next to the former director of the Virginia chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, King Salim Khalfani, who noted that he'd filed 13 complaints about Richmond police officers' use of force in recent years. In the wake of the national protest over Brown's shooting, he called for a reminder that "our lives have value."
"Lately, we've been treated worse than animals," Khalfani said. "In Ferguson, we were treated like road kill."
That sentiment was tempered by Richmond Circuit Court Judge David Eugene Cheek Sr., who asked community members to "at least put a law abiding citizen's face on" when stopped by police.
"It's a real risk you take when you assert your rights," he said, "because sometimes you're wrong."
Richmond's Commonwealth's Attorney Michael Herring and Richmond police lawyer Victoria Pearson said complaints about law-enforcement violence are investigated thoroughly. While police don't cover for each other, he said, juries often side with police officers.
"It's not as black-and-white as you might think," Herring said.
The forum, organized by 9th District Councilwoman Michelle Mosby, drew an audience of about 100 people to the South Side Community Service Center.
Mosby questioned why more young people weren't there to ask about police procedures that make them uncomfortable.
"It's the young people that are dying," she said. "This is the moment they should be standing up, saying, 'No I was around the corner and this is what happened to me.' This is the moment when they wouldn't have gotten locked up for saying it. I need us to do better."