On Tuesday night by the Richmond City Council unanimously voted to approve the issuing of municipal ID cards. The cards are intended to improve public safety, increase civic participation and support local commerce.
The ID cards will be available to any Richmond resident who can prove they have been a resident for fifteen of the previous thirty days. Minors must have a parent or guardian complete and submit the application on their behalf. The ID will be valid for two years and must renewed.
Outside the Community Services Building prior to the start of the council meeting, an energetic crowd of around 90 people gathered and held yellow signs that read “Richmond IDs for all.” After listening to speakers talk in Spanish, they filed into an already-packed council meeting to hear the pros and cons of having such an ID.
Councilmember Jovanka Beckles spearheaded the effort to approve the cards. According to a letter written by Beckles and Mayor Galye McLaughlin to the members of the council, many Richmond residents lack the necessary forms of official identification that are required to access financial institutions, jobs, housing, and protections for the home and workplace. These residents include immigrants, children, students, the homeless, transgender people, the indigent, the disabled, the elderly, runaway youth, and adult survivors of domestic violence.
One unique feature of the ID card is that cardholders will have the option of using it as a $200 pre-paid debit card. The cards can then be used at local businesses and stores will give resident discounts.
North Richmond activist Rev. Kenneth Davis likes the idea of putting money on the ID card and told the council that it will help prevent community violence. “Mexicans get paid in cash and are living in a war zone with my young men that have no livelihoods,” said Davis. “Mexicans are tired of getting robbed so they are shooting back. Anything to stop this type of violence, I’m for it.”
Members of the Latino community said the ID will give the community a sense of safety and improve their ability to report criminal behavior. Police Chief Chris Magnus reassured the audience that reporting a crime to the police would not require people to show an ID or put them at risk for deportation. Nevertheless, he said, having a municipal ID might help people feel more comfortable interacting with the police. “Individuals who may want to report a crime are never required to produce an ID,” said Magnus. “If having this municipal ID causes more people to come forward that might have otherwise been fearful because they think the police is going to ask for an ID, then I think it’s a good thing.”
For Richmond Sol youth director Diego Garcia, having an ID is about a sense of place and identity. “Two months ago I invited the community to participate in a volunteer group that would help the city and parks,” said Garcia. “48 members of the city got trained for three days, 2.5 hours each day for this opportunity to help the parks. At the end of the training only 5 people were able to fill out the application to become volunteers because they did not have their IDs.”
But some audience members argued against the card, citing worries about identity fraud, an increased demand on the city’s already limited resources, and concerns that the city would be replicating the efforts of the Department of Motor Vehicles.
To combat identity fraud Mayor McLaughlin said applicants caught falsifying information will be charged with perjury. Immigrants, meanwhile, must also show an ID issued by another country such as a consular card in order to obtain a city one, she said.
Raymond Landry, a local pastor, said he has no problem with people trying to do better for themselves, but that the idea of offering a less restrictive ID card got personal for his family when he could not register one of his two children in school because improperly identified students were already enrolled, leaving no room for other students. “So that’s what we’re looking forward to—people are going to get more cranky and edgy because lines for services are going to be going around the corner,” said Landry. “It’s become survival of the fittest.”
But supporters of the ID cards say that they will help build a more unified community and provide better resources to Richmond residents. Richmond resident Andrés Soto said the adoption of the new ordinance is a symbol of unity to provide the services and protection that all people in the community deserve. “We know this is not the complete answer,” said Soto. “We know there are things that need to be done at the state level, federal level and even at international level. [The United States] has a legacy of coming together across racial lines, across ethnic lines, across religious lines to stop segregation, to stop racism, to counter it and come together as a community like we have in this room here.”
“What I heard is people wanting to feel comfortable,” agreed McLaughlin. “As mayor I think it’s a wonderful thing that people know we value each and every resident in the city of Richmond. This card will help that message get out there.”