Princess Blanding with her brother Marcus-David Peters. (Family photo)

As the cars began to pull away from the oak-tree canopy of Windsor Gardens Cemetery, she turned around to stay a little longer at her little brother’s gravesite and make a promise.

“I promised him I would fight until we get justice and reformation for him,” Princess Blanding said. “And I will keep that promise.”

Nearly three years after her little brother — beloved high school biology teacher and corny-joke connoisseur Marcus-David Peters — was killed by two bullets fired into his gut by a Richmond police officer, Blanding is keeping that promise in a bold way.

She’s running for governor of Virginia.

The single mom was never into politics. She’s a 39-year-old high school administrator who is raising three kids and trying to figure out the best way to tend their little backyard flock of white ducks.

“I love my boring life,” she said.

And when she joined the Black Lives Matter protests after the murder of George Floyd last year and her friends saw her powerful stance and strong voice and joked that she should run for mayor, she laughed.

“No. I hate politics,” she told them.

But months later, she filed the paperwork for a long-shot third-party run for governor.

“I do feel that I have been called to be one of the voices of the unheard,” Blanding told me after a day of campaigning in Richmond over the weekend.

The center of Richmond’s protest movement, the now-iconic, graffiti-covered Robert E. Lee statue, is ringed by “Marcus-David Peters Circle” — unofficially named for Blanding’s brother after she finally persuaded protesters and politicians to add her brother to the list of people memorialized in that movement.

But Peters’s story — and the keystone of Blanding’s campaign — has another layer to it. Peters was shot while he was in the middle of a roiling mental health calamity. So at the center of her liberal platform calling for equality in schools and jobs, clean energy, labor protections and the legalization of sex work, Blanding emphasizes the growing mental health crisis in Virginia. And America.

“As an educator and in this pandemic, I see mental health issues skyrocketing,” she said. That increase of breakdowns and withdrawals, episodes of impaired actions and patterns of atypical behavior, paired with a police culture resisting reform, is a powder keg.

Did the pandemic slow America’s violent streak? Not really.

“This is something that has to be addressed,” she said. “I’m at the point now where it’s crystal clear to me and to so many others that we cannot keep begging our oppressors to be our saviors.”

Her brother’s killing is part of that growing, new American catalogue of violence, joining the scores of body-camera and mobile-phone videos that document the ways Black people have long suffered from the fear, judgment, bias, hubris, procedure, policy and self-preservation of police.

They’re all hard to watch. But the video of Peters’s final moments is especially chilling, because it was so clear this man was in the grips of a vicious mental health crisis on the sunny, late-afternoon day in May 2018.

The body-camera video released by Richmond police opens with Peters on his back, on the side of Interstate 95, naked, writhing and screaming, making snow-angel motions on the asphalt.

“I figured it out! I’m living the dream!” he screamed to the evening rush-hour traffic.

He got to his feet and ran toward the police officer, who pointed a bright yellow Taser at him.

“Put that Taser down or I’ll kill you!” he yelled at the officer, who tried the Taser on him. But it didn’t slow Peters down, and the two tussled, the camera capturing a blur of arms and trees before the officer fired his gun at Peters. The biology teacher collapsed in the tall grass.

Blanding was at her “middle of nowhere” home on Virginia’s Middle Peninsula with the kids, a dog and those ducks that evening. She was on the phone with one of her sisters when the sister got another call, clicked over to it and then clicked back. “She was just crying and screaming, ‘Poppy’s in the hospital!’ ” Blanding remembered.

Poppy, as the 11 siblings called the youngest male of their clan, had a normal day teaching at Essex High School in Tappahannock. Blanding saw him in the school that afternoon and remembered thinking of how proud she was of him and how he was becoming one of the students’ favorite teachers.

By the time she got to his bedside at the hospital in Richmond that night, when she saw all the tubes and how swollen his body was, “I knew he was gone.”

The shooting was justified, a review by the office of the Richmond commonwealth’s attorney concluded.

Blanding wasn’t buying it. “He was unarmed,” she said.

Her solution is common in talk of police reform, one that emphasizes accountability, ends qualified immunity and shifts the philosophy of police work. It’s reimagining police officers as guardians, not warriors, and including mental health professionals in the line of first responders.

Don’t defund the police. Reimagine the police.

“When we’re talking about defunding the police, we’re talking about reallocating funds from the police department to systems of care, to people who are experts at dealing with a mental health crisis,” she said. “Because clearly, the police are not.”

In December, after much work by Blanding and her family, the state legislature signed a bill to create the Mental Health Awareness Response and Community Understanding Services alert system, or the MARCUS Alert. It was named for Peters.

Blanding slammed it at the ceremonial signing because she said it still gives most of the power to police and still does not ban them from using lethal force when responding to a mental health crisis.

In the past six months, two Black men — Donald Francis Hairston, 44, and Ellis Frye Jr., 62 — have been killed in Culpeper County by deputies doing mental health welfare checks. Frye was sitting on his porch with a gun on Thanksgiving Day. Hairston was an Army veteran who struggled with PTSD. Police were called to check on him in February.

When she criticized the MARCUS Alert, Capitol insiders told Blanding not to be upset, that it was “a good start.” She wants to do more than start something.

And that’s when she realized how big that graveside promise to her brother really was.

Twitter: @petulad

Read more Petula Dvorak:

The American justice system worked, finally.

This list said D.C. is the absolute worst in the nation. Maybe it’s right.

Arrogance and entitlement are the diseases in much of America’s policing

The woman who helped protect Lincoln from the men who tried to kill him