Happy to Live in Richmond This Week

Print More

Because this was the headline in the local newspaper (later addition: Richmond, CA, I forgot to say!):

Richmond police chief a prominent participant in protest against police violence

…a different kind of protest popped up in Richmond on Tuesday, and at the vanguard of the gathering calling for a reduction in police violence in communities of color was an unlikely participant: Richmond’s police chief.
“I’ve never seen anything like it, not in Richmond, not anywhere,” said longtime resident Mary Square, who stood on the north side of Macdonald Avenue watching the protesters on the south side of the street. “All these police, and the police chief, holding signs calling for an end to police violence. … I’m going to tell my kids.”

Richmond Chief of Police Chris Magnus stands with demonstrators to protest the Michael Brown and Eric Garner deaths during a peaceful demonstration in Richmond, Calif., on Dec. 9, 2014. (Kristopher Skinner/Bay Area News Group)

So what’s different about this white police chief? Here’s one thing:

Chris Magnus and Terrance Cheung (Ellen Seskin)


Richmond Police Chief Chris Magnus and Terrance Cheung, the chief of staff in Supervisor John Gioia’s office, were married in a ceremony that took place among blooming flowers in the terraced amphitheater at the Berkeley Rose Garden over the weekend. After the small ceremony, the newlyweds held a reception for about 250 people at the Richmond waterfront restaurant Salute’s.
Magnus and Cheung form something of a political power couple as was evidenced by some of the guests at the reception….

How many police chiefs are married to someone like this?:

As Supervisor Gioia’s chief of staff, Cheung has worked tirelessly on the development of the Ryse Center, which offers numerous resources and organizing opportunities for troubled youths in West Contra Costa County (which organized yesterday’s demonstration that Magnus and some of his officers attended). He has also worked on the development of a one-stop service center for the formerly incarcerated that offers assistance with housing, employment, education, counseling, and medical resources for those who are struggling to get a footing after being released from prison. He is currently working the development of the West Contra Costa Family Justice Center, which provides counseling, legal and support services to the victims of domestic violence.

And here’s what Magnus has done so far:

Magnus’ eight years as Richmond police chief have seen a sustained reduction in violent crime that has rarely been matched in other cities that have experienced seemingly intractable violence related to gangs and chronic unemployment. When Magnus first became chief in 2006, Richmond was regularly rated as one of the most violent cities in the United States. Now, the city’s crime rates are at their lowest in thirty years, which is the result of Magnus’ community policing programs, which include forging strong bonds with community members, church leaders, and young people. The result has been safer streets and renewed interest in the city by businesses.

Fun fact:

The couple’s wedding also may have made a bit of gay marriage history: Magnus is the first openly gay male police chief to be married.

Richmond is a multiracial city, 39 percent Latino, 26 percent Black, 17 percent white, 13 percent Asian. On our local radio yesterday (14 minute audio segment) the deputy police chief explained Richmond’s community policing approach. He explains why the Richmond police department has not received any military gear: they need to look like what they are, a public agency to protect the community.
Not that Richmond police are exempt from the out of control behavior we see around the country. From this September:

The shooting death of Richard “Pedie” Perez, 24, during a scuffle with a Richmond police officer on Sept. 14 has rattled the Iron Triangle neighborhood where Perez lived and raised emotions as conflicting accounts emerge from police and eyewitnesses.
According to police, the officer fired when Perez attempted to grab his gun, but at least one witness says he did not see Perez do so. This was the city’s first fatal officer-involved shooting in seven years.

A lot of bad stuff happens in Richmond, for sure. My friend and colleague, Miki Elster, and I spend every Thursday in the county jail hearing about it in restorative justice circles with incarcerated men and women (and am only posting this now because today we were rained out). But American police have a lot they could learn from Richmond’s police chief.