We had heard rumblings that some cops were upset with Richmond police Chief Chris Magnus for joining a peaceful demonstration along Macdonald Avenue Tuesday, an act that gained national attention.
Turns out that was true.
On Friday, the San Francisco Chronicle quoted an attorney for the police union who said union members were miffed the chief, who held a #Black Lives Matter sign at the demonstration, was in full uniform. State law prohibits officers, including the chief, from “sending a message while in uniform,” the attorney, Alison Berry Wilkinson, said.
“While many may admire the chief for proactively engaging with the community on one of the most significant political issues of the day, by doing so in uniform he violated the very laws he is sworn to uphold,” Wilkinson said.
Richmond Police Officers Association members were “not upset by the message,” the newspaper reported, and the union said the chief has a First Amendment right to free speech. But other officers would have been disciplined for wearing their uniform while sending a political message, union members say.
Chief Magnus responded to the union in a Facebook post Friday, saying his participation in Tuesday’s demonstration was part of RPD’s commitment to transparency and building trust between the community and police.
“At one point, I was asked by a young person of color to hold a sign that said, ‘Black Lives Matter,’the chief said. “I agreed because I wanted to demonstrate that our police department really is serious about building stronger relationships with communities of color. This wasn’t intended to be a ‘political’ statement or a way of suggesting any other lives (regardless of a person’s race) are unimportant to us. It was a important commitment of goodwill to acknowledge that we understand many minority individuals don’t trust the police and that we want to change this.”
Magnus added that strained relations between police and minorities in the U.S. should not be “viewed through the lens of ‘us versus them.’
“Taking a ‘bunker mentality’ instead of reaching out to each other is in my estimation a big mistake,” he said.
Tuesday’s demonstration, sponsored by Richmond’s RYSE Youth Center, drew more than 150 people. A police spokesperson believe it remained peaceful because organizers included the chief in the plans. Mayor Gayle McLaughlin, Mayor-Elect Tom Butt and other members of City Council also attended.