‘This is about the leaders coming to the people’: State, city leaders speak with demonstrators at Lee statue

Demonstrators, city leaders have conversations at monument

RICHMOND, Va. (WWBT) - After several weeks of unrest, state lawmakers and Richmond leaders attended “Conversations at the Monument” Saturday.

The goal of the conversation was to help create a framework for change and policy as lawmakers prepare for the special session and to give the community to give voice to their concerns.

There were five “conversations stations” for residents to record their concerns, recommendations, and policy ideas. The stations had a variety of topics from housing and development, education, criminal justice reform, healthcare, and police reform.

“We’re just ready to take actions towards those concerns,” said organizer Sherri Robinson. “This is the leaders coming to the people, and we have requested that they come out here to speak with us about our concerns.”

University of Richmond Professor Thad Williamson, who manned the education tent during the event, says he was excited to see demonstrators and leaders engage in organic conversations about education in Richmond’s public schools.

“We had a framework at the beginning, talking about education in general, but also talking about a lot of specific categories from teacher pay and training, to after school programs and child care,” said Williamson. “The main thing now is that it’s about the dollars and the cents, and it’s time to prioritize funding for schools.”

First District Councilman Andreas Addison, 5th District Councilwoman Stephanie Lynch, and 9th District Councilman Mike Jones attended the event, speaking directly with demonstrators. Several senators and state delegates in addition to Police Chief Gerald Smith were also asked to attend.

“Our delegates and our state senators have had an opportunity to watch on the sidelines without necessarily having to engage from a legislative standpoint, we now get to see what they’re going to do once they go back into session,” said Jones. “I’m excited, I’m optimistic and I’m interested to see what changes they bring forth.”

Jones was asked directly by demonstrators to push police to reopen the investigation in the shooting and killing of Marcus David Peters back in 2018, who was shot and killed by Richmond Police after experiencing a mental health crisis on Interstate 95. Jones said while he is disappointed by how he and the City Council handled the incident in 2018, he’s ready to put forth the changes necessary now to make sure incidents like it doesn’t happen again.

“It’s a call to action for me as a black male on the city council, that I’m intentional in how I stand in things that impact our community; so many people are in different places and they just wanted someone to help amplify their voices,” said Jones. “As I know better I’ll definitely do better and for me to hear the pain and to be desirous of being a part of the process to administer to the type of legislative help they are looking for, that’s why I’m here.”

Deborah Simmons was one of the dozens who attended, wanting to question leaders about criminal justice reform.

“I’m in support of everything, especially criminal justice, that’s my main focus because there are so many Black people, Black men being wrongfully incarcerated,” said Simmons. “I just want to see everybody continue to keep pushing forward and not look back unless it’s to look back and see how far we’ve come.”

Jones said he and other council members bore the brunt of harsh criticism from demonstrators at the event who he says had legitimate concerns that they haven’t been able to address to people directly responsible. He adds that getting the anger and frustration out is an important part of the legislative process.

“I’m here for this,” said Jones. “I’m not running from any conversation no matter how difficult it might be because that’s what I was elected for.”

“The more we can hear from them, the more that we can hear from real-life experiences which help inform how we transform our system and what policies we put forward and that’s the most important step,” said Stephanie Lynch. “It helps inform how e transform our system and what policies we put forward and that’s the most step.”

Organizers hope to make Conversations at the Monument a monthly event.

“People are angry and I’m angry at a lot of things I see, as well and“I want to see a lot of the same change that so many people in this city want to see,” said Jones.

“Instead of small meetings here or there with a senator or the mayor’s office or whomever demonstrators have been meeting with across the city, everyone here is unified,” said Robinson. “It’s my hope that state and local leaders are open to our suggestions and concerns that we have about the oppression of our black and brown families.”

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