There’s a lot of ish going down that we need our lawmakers to address in the Commonwealth. We’ve got the pandemic. We’ve got police violence against the Black community. We’ve got a budget shortfall. We’ve got elections during a pandemic and the Trump administration’s attempts to sabotage the elections. That’s why state lawmakers are convening for a special session for a couple of weeks to tackle all these issues.
I’m thinking a lot about policing reforms because I am SO SICK of the systemic racism in this country that leads to Black people getting killed indiscriminately by cops who face no consequences for their brutality. The majority of Virginians are too and want to see major structural reforms to policing in Virginia. So, what is the General Assembly doing so that everybody in the Commonwealth can live in safety without fear of police violence?
The General Assembly started its special session on Aug. 18 with the Senate meeting in the Science Museum of Virginia and the House of Delegates convening virtually. At Progress Virginia, we’re pushing for reforms that:
- Shift responsibilities and accompanying funding away from police as first responders when dealing with issues like mental health, addiction, and homelessness
- End the practice of qualified immunity for police officers, which allows them to avoid accountability to victims in civil court
- Establish independent civilian oversight of police departments and requiring external investigation with mandated reprimanding for abuse or misconduct
- Increase training standards and requirements for police officers, including training on bias and profiling and raising the qualification level to become a police officer.
- Defelonize assault on a law enforcement officer
Of course, the list doesn’t include everything that should be done to overhaul this racist police system. We just wanted to get focused on some things we thought wouldn’t be hard to pass and other things we thought we could move the conversation to the left on. If you agree with these reforms and want to talk to your legislator about it, then do it!
Bills to Curb Police Power in Virginia Are Advancing
We’re seeing promising movement on some of these reforms. Delegate Jeff Bourne’s bill to end qualified immunity, which protects police from civil rights lawsuits, advanced out of a House committee. The Senate passed a watered-down version of Senator Scott Surovell’s bill to reduce sentencing for assaulting a police officer. Bills establishing civilian oversight of police department face serious opposition from law enforcement, but Delegate Charnielle Herring’s bill and Senator Ghazala Hashmi’s bill on civilian review boards both advanced.
Legislation addressing training standards was wrapped into Senator Mamie Locke’s omnibus bill, which would ban most no-knock warrants, create a code of conduct for police and allow departments to fire cops who violate it, also advanced in the Senate. Finally, legislation to establish a statewide Marcus Alert, which would have mental health professionals responding to assist people in crisis instead of cops, reported out of a House committee. However, the Senate put the brakes on Senator Jenn McClellan’s bill that would require localities to establish a Marcus Alert system. The family of Marcus-David Peters, a Black man in a mental health crisis who was murdered by Richmond police in 2018, is not happy with the Senate but is pushing ahead with the House legislation.
Not included in the pending proposals is a push to shift resources from policing into community support programs. Police departments receive hundreds of millions of dollars of funding in Virginia while social services, health services, and affordable housing budgets are paltry in comparison. In the meantime, police are continuing to brutalize Black people with impunity because a structure of white supremacy and systemic racism enables police brutality.
Urge Your Virginia Legislators to Take Action for Police Reform
The special session isn’t over yet. You can still take action to pressure our lawmakers to enact major reforms to policing in Virginia. Email your legislators NOW and tell them to stand up for Black lives in Virginia!