6/18/2020, 6 p.m.
Richmond has a new police chief.
Chief Will Smith, who was asked this week by Mayor Levar M. Stoney to resign, was the casualty of his own weak leadership that enabled callous police officers to tear gas and pepper-spray peaceful crowds. One city police officer drove his police SUV into a group of bicyclists protesting near the Lee statue on Monument Avenue last Saturday.
Earlier this week, police also fired rubber bullets at the crowd outside police headquarters on Grace Street in Downtown, striking at least one young woman in the neck.
Mayor Stoney has asked city Commonwealth’s Attorney Colette W. McEachin to investigate expeditiously.
Thankfully, no one has been permanently injured, according to reports.
This is a turbulent time for the city. And the police chief must have his or her allegedly trained officers under control, even in the face of out-of-control protesters who are shouting and sometimes hostile and aggressive.
Richmond has seen daily demonstrations since May 29 by crowds that have numbered in the thousands, all exercising their First Amendment right to speak against police violence and abuse. The protests, spawned by the horrific Memorial Day murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis at the hands of police, call out for the treatment we expect — and demand — of those who are sworn to serve and protect us and our communities.
We also have seen nightly protests in Richmond that resulted early on in damage and looting at stores and property in Downtown, Jackson Ward and on Cary Street, the toppling of four statues honoring white supremacists and oppressors and angry mobs turning their attention on Richmond Police headquarters and Mayor Levar M. Stoney’s residence at a Downtown condominium building.
We don’t condone violence. Nor can we abide by the unprovoked abuse and violence by some officers and unchecked by Chief Smith. That is wrong, intolerable and a sad irony as crowds protest abusive policing.
City Council members Michael Jones and Stephanie Lynch, who viewed the events outside police headquarters on Monday night, have called for it to end.
“Can’t believe what I saw...” Dr. Jones tweeted Monday night.
“This is absolutely unacceptable,” Ms. Lynch tweeted.
So it is no surprise that Chief Smith was asked to resign. We hope Maj. William “Jody” Blackwell, who has been tapped as interim chief, will be able to handle his officers and the ongoing situation more deftly.
There is no end in sight for these protests. And with neo-Confederates, Ku Klux Klan sympathizers and armed white supremacists factions threatening to converge on Richmond to protect the Monument Avenue statues honoring the Lost Cause, we don’t want to see another bloody and fatal attack in Richmond like the one in Charlottesville in 2017.
Right now, we need strong leadership from Chief Blackwell, as well as Mayor Stoney and City Council to defuse what could be a potentially explosive situation.