Across the nation, protests have erupted over widespread reports of police brutality and, more specifically, in response to news that that the officers who killed Michael Brown and Eric Garner, two unarmed African-American men, will not face charges. Police departments in various jurisdictions have been handling the protests in a variety of ways, with some turning to militarized crackdowns while others focus their efforts on fostering cooperation with protesters.
According to Fox 2 Now St. Louis, around 100 protesters took to the streets of Richmond, CA on Tuesday in an effort to sound the alarm on police brutality and racial disparities in the criminal justice system. When Richmond Police Chief Chris Magnus arrived on the scene, protesters were met with the most surprising police response to a protest yet. Rather than deploying tear gas on protesters, Chief Magnus held a sign saying “#BlackLivesMatter” and joined in the protest.
“I spoke with my command staff, and we agreed it would be nice to convey our commitment to peaceful protest and that black and brown lives do matter… And to help bridge the gap that we understand sometimes exists between police and community around certain issues,” said Chief Magnus in comments to Contra Costa Times. Other officers and police officials also joined in on the demonstration.
“We get the conversation about use of force, we get it… This is an opportunity for all police departments, including ours, to look inward and examine our approaches and get better,” said Deputy Chief Allwyn Brown, who also attended the protest. In addition to moral support, Richmond police provided pizza for protesters.
Contra Costa Times writer Robert Rogers noted the fact that Chief Magnus has drawn significant local praise for his approach to policing, as both crime rates and police use of force incidents have been on the decline in his jurisdiction.
Protest organizer and RYSE Executive Director Kimberly Aceves said of Chief Magnus’ protest response in comments to CBS San Francisco, “I think symbolically, when there’s so much division between communities and police departments, to have the highest ranking members of the department hold signs for 4.5 hours…I felt like it was definitely legitimate.” The protest went on for five hours, a symbolic reference to the length of time that Michael Brown’s body remained in the street after he was killed by Ferguson Police Officer Darren Wilson.
Photographs of Chief Magnus holding a “#BlackLivesMatter” sign have gone viral online, symbolizing an Andy Griffith-esque community-based approach to policing as an alternative to the intimidation-based, militarized approaches that have become more common in modern times. According to WDAZ-TV, the Department of Justice has asked the Richmond, CA police chief to participate in a federal civil rights investigation into the shooting death of Michael Brown.