Here Ye, Here Ye, Voices Crying out for Better Safety in our City
Reimagining Public Safety was front and center at the Richmond Progressive Alliance (RPA) recent quarterly membership meeting. We hosted a panel with the intention of informing our members and opening up our conversation to the public. We also wanted to broaden the dialogue about how RPA can participate more actively in this critical campaign.
This panel included seven speakers, followed by a Q&A. We brought different voices to the table to talk about public safety. The planners acknowledged there are many sides of this contentious issue so we aimed to get people thinking beyond the one perspective most often presented to the public, that is, “police = safety.” And since police and other city officials have dominated the narrative with that one equation, we chose to focus on other stakeholders whose safety needs urgently need to be heard and addressed.
Panelists included: our own RPA Steering Committee member, Jamin Pursell, who is also a founding board member of Richmond Rainbow Pride; Daniel Barth of SOS! (Safe Organized Spaces!) Richmond with Randy Scott, an SOS! field supervisor; Randy Joseph, Chair, Richmond Community Police Review Commission, and Reimagining Public Safety Community Task Force member; Ozmar Huerta, Chair, Richmond Youth Council; Carole Johnson, local community activist; and Reverend Kamal Hassan, Designated Pastor of Sojourner Truth Presbyterian Church of Richmond. Each speaker was asked to address two questions:
1) What are the main public safety issues facing your community?
2) What might your community need from RPA, or how can we build a reciprocal relationship between your organization and the RPA?
A number of presenters expressed that they are discriminated against for being what they cannot change or control—LGBTQI+ members, the unhoused, addicted, formerly incarcerated, youth, and just being black. These can be the causes of mental health problems and there are insufficient support structures in our city to assist them. Other safety concerns include human trafficking, police presence in schools, and for some, the lowest Covid-19 vaccination rates in the city.
Their relationships with the police have often been antagonistic—some feel the police are given institutional permission to act with force against their community members. Their safety needs begin with protection from police who treat them without compassion—it is as if the police feel angry and fed up. Safety for some groups simply means getting their needs met. When people don’t have their needs met and police show up there is often conflict. We heard the refrain, “less law enforcement, more support.”
So what can RPA do to partner with these varied groups? Panelists appealed to us that as allies, we need to be voices with them—LGBTQI+ community, youth, and the unhoused. And their communities need to have their voices heard at our RPA table. For the unhoused, we’ve been invited to act as liaisons between the police and the community—to become vibrant, real-time responders. RPA could also provide mobile security with neighborhoods where the homeless experience strife. We need to include youth in conversations, not as political voices but at the table to have their ideas shared.
Randy Joseph challenged RPA to go out into the real communities and deeply listen to different groups of people and to broaden our focus beyond speaking at City Council meetings. Reverend Kamal’s community holds a spiritual center for moral questions and he offered a slant to Randy Joseph’s plea, asking RPA to consider hearing from people in our city who are often not heard, whose needs are unaddressed, and those who are vulnerable. How might we incorporate the voices, perspectives, hopes, and concerns that are most affected by the work we do?
Randy reminded us that this is Year One of the Reimagine Richmond Project. We need vast coalition-building throughout our city and we need to come together to bring safety issues out in the open with solutions for different sets of people. If you’re interested in getting involved with a grassroots group of community members advocating for investment in life-affirming resources and services in Richmond, check out reimaginerichmond.org
So let’s imagine an RPA campaign: The possibilities to outreach to the community and support the implementation of these innovative programs are many. Where do you imagine fitting into these activities with other RPA members?