Virginia CPUSA: Drop the charges against anti-racist activists!

BY: Virginia CPUSA| August 20, 2020
Virginia CPUSA: Drop the charges against anti-racist activists!


On Tuesday, August 18, the Virginia General Assembly started its fall session in Richmond, the state capital, with a legislative program that includes a number of criminal justice reform bills. Though none of the reforms can be categorized as radical “defund the police measures,” several of the proposed new laws have aroused the opposition of police and their allies on the political right. These include the banning of chokeholds of the kind that caused the death of George Floyd; reassigning certain police functions, such as dealing with psychologically distraught individuals, to mental health professionals; authorizing the creation of civilian review boards to oversee police activities and make officers accountable for abuses; making it easier to take away the licenses of abusive police; and limiting the situations in which police can use firearms.

On Monday, August 17, Angela Greene, the police chief of the city of Portsmouth in far southeastern Virginia, announced the filing of felony charges against a state senator, Louise Lucas, several members of the local NAACP leadership, and a number of other people for their alleged part in the tearing down of a Confederate memorial in the city back on June 10.

Portsmouth has a population which is 53% African American, but the city’s conservative white establishment clings to power tenaciously. Recent disputes that have split the city council along racial lines have included the coerced resignation of Greene’s predecessor as police chief, LaTonya Chapman, who is African American, in March of this year. Chapman claimed soon after her ouster that she had been forced out by racist cliques within the police force and the city elite, who had objected to her efforts to improve police relations with the Black community and crack down on police abuses against citizens.

This belated prosecution of Senator Lucas and the others—notably, on the eve of the General Assembly’s first day in session—clearly constitutes the targeting of anti-racist activists in Portsmouth. Lucas, a Black Democrat whose district includes Portsmouth, is president pro tempore of the Virginia State Senate and leader of the Virginia Legislative Black Caucus. Thus she was expected to play a leading role in the coming criminal reform debate in the General Assembly. She is charged with two felonies: “conspiracy” to commit a felony and “injury” to a Confederate monument. The charges appear to stem from an attempt by Lucas to restrain police action against the demonstrators.

Other people charged with conspiracy include Portsmouth NAACP president James Boyd, NAACP leaders Louie Gibbs and Lakesha Hicks, School Board member LaKeesha Atkinson, as well as Kimberly Wimbush, Dana Worthington, and Amira Bethea. Those charged with “injury to a monument” include three public defenders (Brenda Spry, Alexandra Stephens, and Meredith Cramer) and three others: Brandon Woodard, Hanah Renae Rivera, and Raymond J. Brothers. The police circulated photographs of a number of other protesters they want rounded up.

The monument that was damaged is one of the earliest of a great many that are scattered around the South, and like the others, it was built at the behest of a white women’s organization dedicated to the perpetuation of the myth of the “noble” Confederate cause. All these monuments were designed, also, to intimidate the Black population of the cities in which they are located. These statues and other Confederate memorials should have been removed long ago.

Another very suspicious feature of Monday’s felony announcement is that the police did an end run around the Virginia Commonwealth attorney (i.e., state’s attorney) for Portsmouth, Stephanie Morales, who is African American, but rather took the case straight to a magistrate, which is a very unusual way of proceeding. Their pretext for doing this was that Ms. Morales “might” be called as a witness in the trial of the felony cases. Morales was not an eyewitness, so why should she be called to testify? But earlier she had moved to drop trespassing charges against two of the NAACP leaders accused in this case. Also, in 2017, Morales was involved in the prosecution of a police officer who had killed an unarmed man. Remember that Morales was elected to her post by the voters, so this may also amount to an attack on local democracy.

This incident follows another shocking event this past March: the “resignation” of Portsmouth Police Chief Tonya Chapman, who is African American, and against whom no accusations of malfeasance had been made. After she “resigned,” Chapman publicly stated that she had been forced out by racist elements in the police force and city leadership who objected to her efforts to improve relations between the police and Black community, and to crack down on abusive actions by officers.

The announcement of the prosecutions, especially of Senator Lucas, elicited denunciations from Virginia governor Ralph Northam and other top Democratic Party officials, the NAACP, and the Service Employees International Union. It is widely seen as an act of intimidation and harassment against all who try to repudiate Virginia’s blood-soaked history of racial injustice, which goes back to the arrival of the first slave ship at Jamestown in 1619. It is most likely timed to coincide with the consideration of criminal justice reform in Richmond, as well as the probable raising of the police brutality issue at the Democratic National Convention.

The Communist Party and Young Communist League of Virginia denounce this lawless action on the part of the Portsmouth police and their allies in the city leadership. Further, we

*Demand that all charges be dropped immediately, with apologies.

*Demand an investigation of the effort by the Portsmouth Police to evade their responsibility to the voters by using a stratagem to marginalize the elected commonwealth attorney, and insist that this be reversed for this case and never repeated in the future.

*We call, also, for a full investigation of the circumstances of the ouster of former police chief Tonya Chapman, and of her claim that this was part of a racist intrigue.

*Deplore the action of the police in circulating photos of other demonstrators, and of the corporate media which published those photos, by doing so disregarding the fact that this could lead to violent vigilantism.

*Call for the removal of all such Confederate monuments, including not only statues but also street names and other mementos of slavery.

*Demand that the Virginia General Assembly pass even stronger legislation than currently contemplated.

*Salute the brave women and men who have been out in the streets in this vital struggle to make Black Lives Matter.

Image:  Confederate statue in Richmond; Mobilus in Mobili, Creative Commons (BY-SA 2.0).


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