For three years, Princess Blanding has publicly mourned her brother.
Marcus-David Peters was shot by a Richmond police officer during an altercation on May 14, 2018. He died in the early morning hours the next day.
As each birthday or anniversary approaches, Blanding said she has “a mental and emotional tug-of-war” with herself to decide if she should mark the occasion privately or publicly.
“It’s hard, because ultimately the main guest won’t be there,” Blanding said in an interview ahead of Saturday’s celebration of life marking the third anniversary of Peters’ death.
But every time, the decision is always the same: “Marcus is not just my family, but he’s the Richmond community’s family,” Blanding said. “The only right thing to do is to celebrate with them.”
On Saturday, Blanding and volunteers served up a buffet on a median along Monument Avenue, just outside the traffic circle that surrounds a statue of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee. The circle served as a gathering space during last summer’s uprisings and was informally renamed in Peters’ honor. It is now impassable, enclosed by 8-foot, black fencing.
On the median opposite of Blanding, a group of local activists from BLM RVA occupied the area, where they’ve had a near constant presence since last summer’s protests. On a third median, musicians sang and played the keyboards and trombones.
Multiple portraits of Peters faced passersby driving through the circle. Facing the sidewalks that encircle the roundabout, new laminated paper memorials for those shot or killed by police, both locally and nationwide, fluttered in the wind. Some of the makeshift memorials replaced those left last year around the base of the monument that can no longer be reached; others are new.
“Unfortunately, they’re increasing,” Blanding said Saturday of the memorials and police shootings. “We’ve added Xzavier Hill and Donovon Lynch.”
Hill, 18, was shot by two Virginia State Police troopers in Goochland County on Jan. 9, following a high-speed chase on Interstate 64. Lynch, 25, was shot March 26 by a Virginia Beach officer. Their memorials, along with nearly a dozen others, had black backgrounds, which according to a note on the signs signified that those shootings occurred after George Floyd’s murder last May that ignited protests across the country.
Peters, 24, was a high school teacher and had recently graduated with honors from Virginia Commonwealth University when he was shot. He was unarmed, naked and experiencing a mental health crisis when he was shot twice in the abdomen by Richmond officer Michael Nyantakyi. Peters had charged at and threatened to kill Nyantakyi, who first unsuccessfully fired a Taser.
Late last year, Richmond’s Commonwealth Attorney Colette McEachin re-affirmed an earlier decision by her predecessor Michael Herring that Peters’ shooting was justified. Blanding maintains it was not.
His death was her motivation to speak out, she said. First, to set the record straight about his story, then to call for police accountability, now in a bid to become Virginia’s next governor.
Days after the 2018 fatal shooting, Blanding invited reporters, including from the Richmond Times-Dispatch, to her home and spoke to them from her front porch.
“I’m not going to sit silently and allow the media to depict my brother and use the worst moments of his life to cover up the amazing person that he was,” she said recently in an interview reflecting back. “That was the first time I was vocal about it, and it just continued.”
Last summer, state legislators reached out to her during the uprisings to help with legislation creating a new crisis response for mental health calls. The new law ultimately carried Peters’ name, the Marcus Alert. At its signing, Blanding denounced the measure as “watered down and ineffective.”
“For our legislators to state that Marcus had a mental health crisis and to enact full legislation in his name, however continue to say that his murder was justified, it doesn’t even make sense,” Blanding said.
“He was an amazing man and had an amazing life in front of him,” Blanding said, and added that even though he is not here, Peters would “appreciate the fight for changes behind him.”