Let's change society for the better

To the editor:

Last week, I had the opportunity to participate in a news conference with Virginia Organizing at the State Capitol in Richmond. Chapter leaders and members of our State Governing Board came from all over the state to send a message to Gov. Ralph Northam and Attorney General Mark Herring: Meet with anti-racist grassroots organizations and do more as elected officials to address racism in our state. Here is what I shared:

Feet away from us, it may be business as usual for our governor and attorney general. But for thousands of constituents throughout the commonwealth we still face the hurt, embarrassment, and uncertainty of our leadership to expeditiously govern; for us, these actions indicate business is not usual.

Across our 16 chapters and within the governing board, we’ve had long, difficult, uncomfortable conversations regarding race and race relations, especially in wake of the allegations against our top two leaders. Virginia has taken a lot of hard hits in recent years. From the Confederate flag debate in Danville, the domestic terrorism in Charlottesville, the issue of monuments and the increase in hate crimes, Virginia has been hurt by the actions of a few.

Starting in 2013, Virginia Organizing’s Danville Chapter members have met with law enforcement leadership and expressed the need for more transparency and accountability within the force. Virginia Organizing has met with the former police chief, gone on ride-alongs with the street crimes unit, canvassed communities of color to learn about residents’ experiences with the police, and filed complaints when necessary; through all of that, we struggled to make any progress.

In 2015, in the wake of the police killings of Michael Brown, Tamir Rice, Eric Garner and others, we began a renewed effort to make sure something like that didn’t happen in our city. We brought community members together to share what they wanted to see change. We built a list of recommendations based on what we learned and brought them to the police department. The Danville Police Department changed the way it collects citizen complaints to make the process more accessible, shared complaint data with us, and kept open the lines of communication.

In that process, we also expressed the importance of diverse hiring practices to serve a community with over half of the population being people of color. We’ve spoken with the attorney general to discuss the lack of diversity within our police departments in Southside Virginia, with the hope of an extended conversation about hiring practices; unfortunately, those conversations stalled.

We have met with our new police chief and are optimistic about the direction our city is moving. However, Northam and Herring need to do more to support these efforts. Danville — like most localities — does not collect data about race and traffic stops, which should be a baseline. Our state officials can help make that a reality. We must have a discussion about race, privilege, bias, lessons learned, and how to move forward.

To learn more about the needs of communities of color, I would like to challenge Gov. Northam and Attorney General Herring to meet with constituents outside of private events. Beyond that, I call on them to meet with Virginia Organizing as soon as possible to discuss conducting a dismantling racism workshop.



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