Every time there’s a major shooting in another city and it involves police, local journalists make a beeline for Richmond Police Chief Alfred Durham to comment.
It frustrates Durham, and he doesn’t have easy answers.
“The questions come: How can you assure us that this is not going to happen [here]? I can’t. I can’t assure you that,” he says. “I can’t tell you what’s going to happen in an encounter with my officers and somebody on the street. I can’t tell somebody when my officer’s going to shoot or not shoot. They have to recognize a threat.”
This week, two separate videos emerged of unarmed black men, Alton Sterling and Philando Castile, being shot and killed by police officers in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, and St. Paul, Minnesota, respectively.
Then Thursday night at a peaceful protest in Dallas, a gunman targeted police officers, resulting in the death of five and the wounding of seven more.
“I’m not here to second guess; I wasn’t there,” Durham says. “The video in the Minnesota shooting started after the shooting. What happened before? We don’t know. I’m not saying the victim did something wrong, but I don’t know.”
His department extended condolences and support in the wake of the Dallas event.
“Things like Dallas, it goes to show you the distrust and dislike we’re up against,” he says. “If something happens in Ferguson or New York, we’re getting hit here, but we’ve got nothing to do with that. This was not your police department that was engaged with it.”
In a public message released today, Durham says, "Our Department will continue to build trust through positive interactions with our community – and continue to build upon the solid relationships we have made through our community policing efforts."
This week, the police department’s youth group, Young Adult Police Commissioners, staged a demonstration modeling a traffic stop. The video demonstrated the body cameras that some Richmond police officers wear.
“I tell my officers, my staff: Your actions, I’m held accountable for,” he says. “You don’t see them ask the officer, why did you shoot this individual? They’re going to ask me what happened, why.”
Durham urges patience in the face of ongoing inquiries. “You have to let the investigation take its course, that’s one thing I always say to my community,” he says. “I don’t have the answers. I want answers just like you.”
As Richmonders and others around the country continue to search for answers, some are participating in protests and events held in honor of the shooting victims. A group of Virginia Union University students marched Thursday in protest of the Louisiana and Minnesota shootings, and today, St. Elizabeth Catholic Church on Richmond’s North Side held a special mass in response to the Dallas shootings.
There’s a vigil supporting the Dallas police officers in Washington, D.C., on Saturday that some from Richmond plan to attend.
On July 16, from 3 to 6 p.m., there will be a two-mile Black Lives Matter march starting at Monroe Park.