The “black lives matter” protests in Richmond continued yesterday as about 50 demonstrators laid down on the street at the intersection of West Broad and North Harrison Streets, blocking traffic at a major intersection near Virginia Commonwealth University. What is remarkable about participants in this group is their inability to articulate grievances beyond poster-board slogans like “Don’t Shoot” and “I Can’t Breathe.”
Richmond Police Major Steve Drew took the protesters by surprise by offering to discuss their grievances in a public forum and talk about police brutality and what Richmond police can do “to make things better,” according to the Richmond Times-Dispatch. Several protesters responded positively to the suggestion. But it’s not clear if they even have grievances with Richmond police specifically.
“Protesters chanted ‘black lives matter,’ calling for action and threatening to ‘shut it down.’ Several sang a song about “the violence of the racist police,'” writes reporter Brandon Shulleeta. But…
Reporters pressed protesters on what they were asking for. Some gave broad answers about inequality, some said they couldn’t speak for others, and several simply said the protests would continue.
Demonstrators can’t point to any cause celebre of unjustified police violence here in Richmond. Indeed, their protests are tuned entirely to national news, not local events. It’s not even clear how many of the protesters were local. At least one citizen told the TV cameras, “I’m not a Richmond citizen, and I can’t speak for the Richmond community….”
Here’s a news flash: In Richmond, the African-American mayor is working with the African-American sheriff and the African-American commonwealth attorney to reform the criminal justice system to reduce the number of inmates (overwhelmingly African-American) incarcerated in the city jail without jeopardizing public safety. I wrote about that initiative about a year or so ago, and I’m not sure how it’s going. But that’s where the action is. If the protesters (a group comprised of whites and blacks) want to dialogue about something meaningful, they need to stop blocking traffic and start boning up on the real issues.
Meanwhile, here are some follow-up questions for local media: Who organizes these events? Where are the organizers from? How do they make a living? Who, if anyone, is funding them? Is this a genuine, local grass roots movement or the work of outside agitators with zero knowledge of local issues?
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