Richmond’s progressive police chief not progressive enough for RPA

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Richmond police chief Chris Magnus has gained national attention for a progressive, community-participation brand of policing that’s credited with increasing the department’s transparency while reducing the city’s crime rate.

But members of the Richmond Progressive Alliance (RPA) apparently don’t think he’s progressive enough.

Along with co-sponsoring a forum at RPA headquarters on Macdonald Avenue this Sunday demanding greater police department accountability, the RPA has been promoting a town hall at the Richmond Human Rights and Human Relations Commission (HRHRC) on Monday asking people to tell their tales of “police terror.”

But that town hall, set to be held in City Council Chambers, was not on the commission’s agenda. Instead, the agenda included a presentation by Chief Magnus on the issues of use of force and police pursuits.

When Mayor Tom Butt learned of the town hall, he promptly warned commissioners via email that groups may be looking to hijack their Monday meeting for their personal cause. Butt took issue with the town hall event billing itself as a “meeting on police brutality, abuse and terror,” when it was in fact a regularly scheduled commission hearing.

He said such an event is an improper use of council chambers and doesn’t make sense for Richmond, where the local police department is receiving national praise for its progressive policies, including its training of officers in use of force.

“Describing this discussion as ‘police brutality, abuse, and terror’ is a little over the top, especially in Richmond where police brutality, abuse, and terror is largely accepted as a thing of the past,” Butt said.

Magnus gained national attention — and drew ire from some of his own police officers — when he held a #BlackLivesMatter sign during a peaceful demonstration in Richmond. The chief was also chosen by the U.S. Department of Justice to assist in the civil rights probe related to the high-profile fatal shooting in Ferguson, Mo., of black teen Michael Brown by white Officer Darren Wilson.

Due to controversy over the “police terror” town hall, Magnus will no longer deliver a report to the HRHRC commission on Monday. Instead, the chief said Thursday he will discuss use of force issues at Tuesday’s City Council study session, a meeting that is overseen by Butt.

The RPA’s campaign against the police department apparently stems from the fatal shooting on Sept. 14 of Richard “Pedie” Perez, 24, of Richmond by Officer Wallace Jensen. That case is the impetus for Sunday’s forum at RPA headquarters, which insinuates that Jensen and the department should be held accountable for Perez’s death.

An investigation by the Contra Costa County District Attorney’s Office found that Jensen acted in self-defense. But members of the Oscar Grant Committee Against Police Brutality & State Repression, a co-sponsor of Sunday’s forum at RPA headquarters, say they have interviewed eyewitnesses who do not believe that the shooting was justified.

A release promoting Sunday’s forum at RPA headquarters states Perez’s shooting was “unwarranted” and that the meeting would not only discuss issues on police encounters but “prepare for upcoming City meetings where you can make a difference.”

Interestingly, the same release also notes that Perez’s killing was “the first lethal shooting by Richmond police since 2007.”

A request for comment from the RPA Thursday afternoon has not yet been answered.

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