2020: Strides forward for social justice

Updated: Dec. 31, 2020 at 4:56 PM EST
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RICHMOND, Va. (WWBT) - Despite the hardships we’ve endured this past year, 2020 also took major strides toward social justice in our country.

Virginia, and Richmond in particular, became a focal point for that change.

After years of nationwide protests over police brutality and excessive force, it was the killing of George Floyd - on the ground in handcuffs by Minneapolis police - that would literally ignite change. As demonstrations broke out nationwide in May, Richmond saw three months of protests, calling for police reform and an end to systemic racism.

Richmond’s demonstrations were both peaceful and violent, involving clashes with police, a GRTC bus and RPD patrol car set on fire, officers in riot-gear deploying tear gas, over 200 arrests, businesses vandalized and looted, officers tear-gassing peaceful gatherers at the Robert E. Lee Monument, and two RPD officers also getting indicted for misdemeanor assault outside a boarded-up and guarded police headquarters.

Then, a tangible change became evident as Richmond’s long-held Confederate statues were pulled down. Governor Ralph Northam called for the removal of the Lee statue on state property. That effort is still being battled in court, as the monument now represents something totally different -a society tied up in civil unrest until social change is reached.

On June 10, protesters pulled down Monument Avenue’s statue of Confederate president Jefferson Davis. Soon after, cranes were erected as Richmond Mayor Levar Stoney ordered the rest of the Confederate statues on city property to be removed. Mayor Levar Stoney declared a state of emergency and public safety concerns in order to remove the figures.

Stonewall Jackson, Matthew Maury, J.E.B. Stuart, and other statues across the state were carefully hauled away to an undisclosed storage location, leaving Monument Avenue transformed.

Meantime, Richmond’s Police Chief William Smith was replaced by a new chief from out-of-state, RPD’s current Chief Gerald Smith.

Other replacements included the names of two Hanover schools, which dropped their Confederate-namesakes after a school board vote.

The Washington ‘Redskins’ would also forever be altered. The team is now temporarily called Washington’s Football team.

In the fall, Northam signed a list of police reform measures, as Stoney put together a task force aimed at re-imagining public safety.

Northam also signed a bill for the Marcus Alert System, after Marcus Peters. Peters, a black man experiencing a mental health crisis, was shot and killed by a Richmond police officer during an altercation. The measure pushes for a more coordinated response for those experiencing mental health breakdowns.

1950′s civil rights icon Barbara Johns, a Farmville high schooler who helped lead the charge to desegregate public schools was named to replace another Robert E. Lee statue, this time in the U.S. Capitol.

2020 was certainly a year of physical and immeasurable losses but in many ways historic gains.

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