Moral Low Ground

Civil Liberties

Richmond, California Police Chief Chris Magnus Joins Anti-Police Brutality Protest

Richmond, California Police Chief Chris Magnus stands with anti-police brutality protesters during a December 9, 2014 demonstration.

Richmond, California Police Chief Chris Magnus stands with anti-police brutality protesters during a December 9, 2014 demonstration.

As images and accounts of civil disobedience and violence at Berkeley, California police brutality protests make national headlines, the police chief of a nearby East Bay city is in the news for joining protesters there.

Richmond Police Chief Chris Magnus took to the street on Tuesday, holding a sign emblazoned with the now-familiar #BlackLivesMatter anti-police violence slogan in a sign of solidarity with scores of protesters who gathered at McDonald Avenue and 41st Street around noon.

Standing a few steps away was Deputy Police Chief Allwyn Brown, who said that the city’s leaders and police “get it.”

“We get the conversation about use of force, we get it,” Brown said. “This is an opportunity for all police departments, including ours, to look inward and examine our approaches and get better.”

Also present were outgoing mayor Gayle McLaughlin and city council members Jael Myrick, Jovanka Beckles and Tom Butt. Butt was elected mayor of the city of 103,000 residents in November and will soon replace McLaughlin, the most notable Green elected official in the nation.

“I’ve never seen anything like it, not in Richmond, not anywhere,” resident Mary Square told the Contra Costa Times. “All these police, and the police chief, holding signs calling for an end to police violence. … I’m going to tell my kids.”

Magnus, who has won accolades for his community policing approach and for helping lower both crime and police use of force during his tenure, said he wanted to let people know that he believes minority lives matter.

“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,” the chief said after the protest. “And to help bridge the gap that we understand sometimes exists between police and community around certain issues.”

Richmond, however, is not immune from making headlines for fatal police shootings of unarmed men of color. Just this September, Officer Wallace Jensen shot and killed 24-year-old Richard “Pedie” Perez III outside a liquor store. Wallace claims he feared for his life as a drunken Perez reached for his gun during a struggle.

But Perez’s family doesn’t believe Jensen’s account of events.

“We definitely dispute that he was reaching for his gun and that there was a basis to shoot him at the time,” asserted renowned civil rights attorney John Burris, who is representing the slain man’s relatives.

Tuesday’s protest was organized by members of the RYSE Youth Center.

“It’s important that Richmond be seen as part of this peace movement,” RYSE executive director Kimberly Aceves told the Times. “Because black and brown lives matter, and because this country and this world continue to act as if they don’t.”

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