RICHMOND, Va. (AP) — The sister of a Black man killed by Richmond police in 2018 blasted state lawmakers and Gov. Ralph Northam on Tuesday for what she called a “watered down, ineffective” law that will dispatch mental health providers alongside police to help stabilize people in crisis situations.
Princess Blanding’s remarks came during a ceremonial signing by Northam of a new law named after Marcus-David Peters. The 24-year-old high school biology teacher was fatally shot by a police officer after he ran onto an interstate highway, naked and unarmed, while experiencing a mental health crisis.
Just before the confrontation, Peters had struck several cars with his vehicle, then ran onto Interstate 95 during heavy rush-hour traffic. The officer, who also was Black, pointed a stun gun at Peters, who then ran toward him, shouting and threatening to kill him. The officer deployed the stun gun, which appeared to have no effect, and then shot Peters with his service weapon.
Blanding lobbied for a law that would give mental health professionals the lead role when police are called to respond to people in crisis. But she said the law passed by the General Assembly and signed by Northam doesn’t go far enough and is not what she envisioned. She said previously that she believes the law should have included language that police should only be allowed to use nonlethal methods of restraint on people in crisis.
“Please take a moment to pat yourselves on the back for doing exactly what this racist, corrupt system … expected you all to do, make the Marcus Alert bill a watered-down, ineffective bill that will continue to ensure that having a mental health crisis results in a death sentence,” she said, as Northam and the three main sponsors of the legislation stood nearby.
Northam said afterward that he sees the legislation as a “first step” that can later be strengthened.
“I certainly understand her position. She’s advocating for a loved one that she lost,” Northam said
Last month, Commonwealth’s Attorney Colette McEachin issued a report in which she said the officer’s use of deadly force against Peters was a “reasonable response” to the danger posed by the man. Her finding mirrored an earlier finding by her predecessor that the shooting was justified.
Blanding has taken a step toward a possible run for governor next year by filing a “statement of organization” to establish a campaign committee.