RICHMOND, Va. -- In the year since George Floyd was murdered and protests against racial injustice began in the days that followed, Richmond Mayor Levar Stoney says it became clear to him that Richmond had not truly dealt with its history on race.
Stoney sat down for a one-on-one interview with CBS 6 one year after Floyd’s death in Minneapolis under the knee of a police officer.
Virginia’s capital city saw months of protests calling for systemic changes to criminal justice and economic inequity experienced for generations of Black Americans. There were multiple incidents of vandalism and property destruction through that time.
Stoney characterized the year as one of “pain and progress.”
“I look back at Richmond’s past its history, we haven’t really undergone a true healing process,” he said. “I look at the opportunities that are provided for Black and Brown people in this country. The question we need to ask ourselves is does it take death to bring about real sustainable change for Black communities? It shouldn’t take that much. The law of this land should be built on equity.”
During the months of protest in the city, many were critical of Stoney’s leadership, saying he would express support for the Black Lives Matter movement but not stand up to his own police force, who deployed chemicals on crowds of protestors at times.
“Can you guarantee to protestors that might take to the streets they’ll be safe to do so under your leadership and the new police department should it happen again this summer?” asked CBS 6 reporter Jake Burns.
“What I can guarantee is that those who demonstrate in the city of Richmond will be safe. Obviously, there is a difference between peaceful protest, there’s a difference between riotous behavior,” Stoney said.
In his eyes, Stoney said clear next steps include pursuing access to quality affordable housing and quality jobs. The mayor also said the formation of a civilian review board must speed up. A task force continues working toward forming Richmond’s version.
“We have to do something with the moment. It can’t be just symbolism. It has to be action and substance. That’s what I’m devoted to,” Stoney said.
CBS 6 asked Stoney to respond to critics who argue he is not open to big ideas from activists. Stoney said part of collaboration is being flexible to find consensus.
“I’m willing to work on bringing the change that is necessary, but I’m also willing to be flexible to make it happen too. I think that’s missing sometimes in the conversation about collaboration.”
Stoney said he is not worried about momentum slowing even though he said systemic changes take time.