by James A. Bacon
Richmond City Council has taken up discussion of the demand by social-justice protesters to “defund the police.” Richmond is not Minneapolis, or Portland, or Seattle, and the three-person finance committee charged with making funding recommendations for the full council has split the baby. Instead of full defunding, the committee supports asking the Richmond Police Department (RPD), in effect, to recommend how to partially de-fund itself.
If City Council approves the committee’s recommendations, reports the Richmond Times-Dispatch, RPD will identify funding in its budget for mental health, substance abuse, and social service functions that could be reallocated to other departments, and submit a report by Oct. 1 on where the money would go.
The half-measure is unlikely to satisfy militant Black Lives Matter advocates, many of whom spoke at the virtual public hearing yesterday. “We demand that funds be reallocated from the Richmond city police department’s excessively large budget, and reinvested in our community,” said Princess Blanding, sister of Marcus-David Peters, a tragic figure who was killed when threatening police during a mental health crisis in May 2018. Militants occupying the Lee Circle on Monument Ave. have renamed it in Peters’ honor.
Neither will the committee’s half measure likely satisfy the city’s new police chief Gerald Smith, who said RPD would require more money, not less, to address the systemic changes called for during recent protests. It will be difficult to extract the funding for the specific areas in the resolution, he said, because they are “intertwined in other things.”
The debate occurs against the backdrop of continued demonstrations as well as the effective takeover by activists of the Lee Circle, where the Robert E. Lee statue still stands while legal challenges to its removal work through the courts. The site is placid during the day, occupied by two or three dozen people who are mostly chatting and milling around. When I visited recently around 6 p.m., there were a couple of tents where vendors were selling trinkets, and a couple of men were shooting hoops in a portable basketball net. Families with children were walking and riding bicycles through the streets of the Fan neighborhood a block or two away. Continue reading