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Richmond leaders respond to equality movement, protests

Richmond, VA  |  June 12, 2020 11:00am  |  By Tom Lappas

One month ago, it would have seemed implausible to imagine that any topic in the next several years – perhaps even in the next generation – could surpass in stature and impact the COVID-19 global pandemic.

In retrospect, it may have taken only a few weeks for one to do just that.

The death of George Floyd in Minneapolis spurred outrage worldwide, which, like a gathering hurricane spinning off tornadoes in its wake, has only grown stronger and more omnipresent in the days since.

In Metro Richmond, as elsewhere, citizens are analyzing issues of equality, justice, systemic racism and inclusivity, among many others. Each day brings new voices, new perspective, new protests (most now peaceful, after several earlier ones were not)  – and the potential for old wounds either to be ripped open wider or to begin healing.

How do some of this region’s leaders view the events of the past two weeks in Metro Richmond? We asked them to tell us in this month’s Richmond Power Poll.

Among respondents to our five-question survey, the area of greatest agreement came in response a question that asked them to best describe their feelings and personal experiences with local police officers. More than nine in 10 respondents said either they’d had only positive experiences with local police and heard only positive feedback from others or that they believed most police officers are excellent but some are lacking.

The others said either that they don’t trust the police at all or believe that most police officers are not excellent.

Richmond officers have come under public scrutiny during the past two weeks for tear-gassing a crowd that had gathered (seemingly peacefully) at the Robert E. Lee monument and for physically engaging protesters and several members of the credentialed news media in other incidents. Mayor Levar Stoney and Police Chief Will Smith subsequently apologized for the actions, but those apologies largely fell on deaf ears among protesters.

When asked to describe their feelings about the initial week of protests and calls for change, about 60 percent of respondents said they were angry about the way Blacks have been treated and that major change was needed to address that inequality. Another 31 percent said they believed Blacks have been treated equally in most ways but some key changes are needed to improve that treatment.

Six percent said most Blacks are treated equally and that no major societal changes are needed, and three percent said they sympathized with the Black community even though they didn’t believe any changes were needed.

As for the daily protests that have occurred (and which began with some violence, looting and fires), 31 percent of respondents said they fully supported the protesters and that while looting and rioting is unfortunate, sometimes those actions are required in order to bring about change.

Nearly 60 percent of respondents said they supported the protesters’ cause but the looting and rioting had no place in their efforts. Six percent said that they didn’t support the protesters.

In evaluating the leadership of Richmond Mayor Levar Stoney, respondents were split.

Thirty-one percent said they felt he had done a good job and attempted to be fair to all sides but also had made some mistakes along the way. Another 15 percent said he had done an excellent job.

Twenty-two percent described his efforts as average and said he had made some major mistakes, and another 22 percent said he had done a poor job and hadn’t been consistent with his words or actions.

Another area of relative agreement among respondents came in response to a question about Richmond’s Confederate statues.
Stoney announced plans to remove the four Confederate monuments from Monument Avenue that sit on city land; Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam announced that he plans to remove the Robert E. Lee monument, which is on state land.

Half of all respondents said that they believed doing so was the right thing and was long overdue. Another 31 percent said they had recently come to understand why taking down the statues was the right thing to do. About 15 percent said they understood why others might want the statues removed but that they disagreed. Three percent said the statues should remain.

Thirty-two people responded to this month’s poll.