Richmond commemorates Pedie Perez with Cutting Boulevard art installation

Richmond commemorates Pedie Perez with Cutting Boulevard art installation
Rick Perez and artist John Toki unveil commemorative art can receptacles in honor of Perez's son Pedie on Saturday, May 18, 2024. Photo/ Soren Hemmila

A dedication of receptacle art cans bearing the image of Richard "Pedie" Perez III, who died in a police shooting in 2014, was held Saturday in front of Uncle Sam's Liquor Store on Cutting Boulevard before a crowd of family, friends, and community members who came out to show their support.

Last September, the Richmond City Council honored Perez by declaring September 14 a day of remembrance for him and announced that commemorative art cans designed by a local artist were in the works. On a windy Saturday afternoon, the can art was unveiled amid speeches, memories of Pedie, and high hopes for an improved community in Richmond.

Artist John Toki, a neighbor of the Perez family, volunteered his time to create the receptacles done in a mosaic style and adorned with images of Pedie at different stages of his life. Toki, who has run a sculpture studio in Richmond since 1974, has completed public commissions in Berkeley, Oakland, and Sacramento and has exhibited his work in numerous cities.

"We used refuse cans from the City of Richmond. We clad it in ceramic tiles fired in a kiln for 20 hours. There are images of Peddie as a little baby boy, a teenager, and an adult," Toki said. "Maybe this will become a historic site. Maybe we could embellish the sidewalk and the building and keep going in the City of Richmond. That is the power of art that we can beautify the city with this message."

Pedies Father, Rick Perez, said he's happy to see the art come to fruition after many discussions about ways to memorialize his son.

"I’m grateful for John Toki. He has been talking to me for years about doing a memorial for our son, and so it finally came to be," Perez said.

Artist John Toki with a Richmond Police Officer. Photo/ Linda Hemmila

Perez also says the shooting that took his son's life should have never happened.

"My son was unarmed. Pedie Prez was unarmed, and it should have never happened that way. The cop that was hired should never have been hired in the first place," Perez said. "We’ve been fighting for a whole bunch of different laws. Our fight isn’t done yet, but I’m grateful that we are able to change these laws. I’m grateful we got the police paying attention."

Captain Matt Stonebraker said acknowledging Pedie’s death is an important step in community relations and also illustrates its strength and resiliency.

"Today, we are here to dedicate these art cans in honor of Pedie Perez. In working towards enhancing our community relations, it is important to acknowledge Pedie’s death. Rick’s willingness to engage with us is a testament to our strength and resiliency of this community," Stonebraker said.

Captain Matt Stonebraker, Rick Perez, John Gioia, and Councilmember Soheila Bana. Photo/ Linda Hemmila

Richmond Councilmember Soheila Bana, who worked to mend the relationship between the Richmond Police Department and the Perez family, said Richmond is unique in the sense that the victim's family and police come together and make the effort to make sure such a tragedy won't happen again.

"It has been almost 10 years since this incident happened. Pedie Perez, unarmed, innocent. He was unfortunately killed tragically by a police officer who is no longer with the Richmond police department." Bana said. "Pedie Perez’s family turned their pain into reform and change. They did their best to make sure it will never happen again to any family."

Contra Costa County Supervisor John Gioia said he hopes the county's new A3 program, along with Richmond’s own crisis program, which is still in the works, will prevent deaths at the hands of law enforcement from someone experiencing a mental health crisis, but he still sees ways the system can be improved.

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"We’ve committed $20 million every single year for a 24-7 mental health crisis response program called A3. I know the city is also funding something on top of this in Richmond. The purpose of this is so that you can call 24 hours a day to have a mental health behavioral health professional out at the scene that can prevent a death," Gioia said. "We’ve seen too many of these deaths. People say they don’t happen in our community. Yes, they do happen in our community. We have to stop saying it just happens somewhere else. Collectively, we all have a responsibility to stand up and look at how the system can be improved. We’ve come a long way in 10 years but still have a long way to go."

Councilmember Claudia Jimenez said it's important not to forget what happened to Pedie, and acknowledged his family's commitment to speak at city council meetings to keep the discussion going.

"It is beautiful to see the support that continues to show up for the family. I love every Tuesday when I see your face, and Patricia and all of the family making public comments so that we don’t forget what happened to Pedie. Because of what happened to Pedie, we can’t forget," Jimenez said.

Crime Prevention Manager Michelle Milam said it took courage on both sides to bring the Perez family and the police department together and a lot of work to get to this moment.

"I was asked if this could have happened 10 years ago. My answer was no because of the pain and all of the harm that was done. It took a lot of courage on the part of the family to be here. It took courage on the part of the police department to say 'What can we do so we don’t stand here and do this ever again?'" Milam said.

Milam's own family history with the Richmond police department made it unlikely she would work in the position she has today, but she knows her job is an important one.

"My father was beat down by the cowboys, and I never thought that I would work for a police department, but God sent me here because I believe He wanted someone to enter into Pharaoh's palace and someone to understand that to change a system, you have first be willing to talk and work within that system," Milam said.

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As the sun set over Richmond Saturday night, the community gathered on a busy section of Cutting Boulevard to remember Richard P. Perez III, “Pedie,” who died in a police shooting nine years ago. Across the street, music wafted from the open door of an evangelical church’s Saturday night
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