Hundreds gathered Saturday at Second Baptist Church in the Randolph community to show their support — and their outrage — for the 24-year-old Henrico County man who was killed along Interstate 95 last week by Richmond police and to call for changes to policing policies that are under scrutiny after his death.
A day after the police department released body-worn camera footage from officer Michael Nyantakyi, who fired two fatal shots into Marcus-David Peters’ abdomen, Peters’ sister, Princess Blanding, said one thing was clear from the video: “our officers, nationwide, need to be equipped with strategies other than just using deadly force.”
The graphic footage from May 14 included a roughly 9-minute video from the officer’s camera that opened with Peters in his car, which had crashed in some brush along I-95/64 after striking three others, and Nyantakyi pointing his gun. Peters is shown exiting the vehicle through the window feet first, unarmed and naked, running into traffic on the highway, rolling around during rush-hour traffic after being hit by a slow-moving car, then aggressively charging Nyantakyi, who first fired a Taser that proved ineffective before shooting Peters twice.
Those who spoke during the community meeting, called by Blanding and aided by several local activist groups, rejected the idea that the officer’s actions were justified despite Peters’ threatening to kill the officer as he charged. They said the aberrant behavior displayed by Peters that day shouldn’t have resulted in his death.
“What I’m hoping we get here,” Blanding said, “is that we band together and continue to fight for justice for Marcus. Not just justice for Marcus, because justice in isolation is not going to bring upon a change to help prevent this from happening again to someone else. So reformation.”
The officer immediately acknowledged that Peters was having some sort of mental distress — even before exiting the vehicle, Peters can be heard screaming gibberish and flailing inside — and relayed it on his radio.
“When our first responders, when our law enforcement officers encounter and can acknowledge that they’re dealing with a mental health situation, then there needs to be — there has to be better procedures to help de-escalate,” she said. “I can’t change it, but I’m not going to accept it.”
Near the end of the two-hour meeting, Blanding and several other members of Peters’ family — Peters was one of 12 children, but Blanding has been the spokeswoman — were called to the front as those remaining in the audience reached a hand onto the back of the person in front of them during a prayer.
The meeting was supposed to serve as a planning meeting for a march scheduled for Saturday, June 2. But it served more as part rallying cry for the changes the group wants to see from police and part revival.
The Rev. James Henry Harris, pastor of Second Baptist Church and a theology professor at Virginia Union University, riled up the diverse crowd with a stirring speech in which he invoked the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. several times.
“This black pain, this black suffering almost suffocates me and keeps me from breathing or speaking. Almost,” he said. “It’s a pain that has the ability to silence you. But I say to you today that we cannot be silent. We cannot be silent. You cannot be silent. I cannot be silent. We have been silent too long.”
“We must not allow the death of Marcus to be one that is in vain.”
Harris called Peters’ death a lynching. Local lawyers and others with experience in the field said Friday that the video appears to clear Nyantakyi, who they say was justified in pulling the trigger.
But Harris and others at the meeting believe a different approach from the start of the encounter may have led to a different outcome that didn’t cost Peters his life.
“Tased, and then shot at close range, naked and treated like ... I can only say ... an animal. This is cruel. This is what I call torture. This is brutality. This is evil,” he said. “Marcus’ death has something to say to each and every one of us. ... None of us can afford to think that this has nothing to do with us. Every white person, every brown person, every yellow person, every person who stands on the sidelines clutching their own security and their own safety might as well be pulling the trigger.”
The march on Saturday will start at the Siegel Center at Virginia Commonwealth University, where Peters graduated with honors in 2016, and continue to the Richmond Police Department’s headquarters on West Grace Street. A meeting to make signs and art to carry along the route is planned for Monday at 2 p.m. at Earth Folk Collective, 2718 Bainbridge St.