Mayor Levar Stoney on Tuesday announced he would propose a budget amendment to the Richmond City Council that, over a five-year period, would have the city invest between $25 million and $50 million to commemorate the complete story of slavery in Shockoe Bottom.
An immediate investment of $3.5 million to build a Shockoe memorial park that will include a slave history museum is part of the proposal.
The immediate investment, Stoney said, will come from surplus funding. The City Council has to approve the budget amendment before it can move forward. Stoney said he wasn’t sure when it would be on the council’s agenda.
“There’s no true timeline to this,” Stoney said of when the Shockoe Alliance might produce renderings or excavations for the project. “I will say it cannot take as long as 30 to 40 years. … It’s long overdue.”
Council President Cynthia Newbille was at the news conference at the Lumpkin’s Jail site. Newbille is part of the Shockoe Alliance, which was tasked with coming up with recommendations to commemorate the slave trade in Richmond.
“That’s what a racial and social justice agenda looks like,” Newbille said. “It goes beyond words. It says the lives of enslaved Africans matter ... and the opportunity to tell the whole story in this city, in this time, is even more critical in this time.”
She said she was almost moved to tears.
“The work is still ahead of us, and we have lots to do,” said Ana Edwards of the Sacred Ground Historical Reclamation Project. She also made clear that without the political climate in the city, the work may not have been done. “It’s really critically important to recognize it was the result of community involvement and community voice, including the fact that the rebellions finally galvanized political will.”
Members of the Sacred Ground Historical Reclamation Project had been advocating for a 9-acre memorial park since 2015.
The work to preserve the jail site, also known as Devil’s Half Acre, began under then-Mayor Dwight Jones’ administration, but the work was focused on trying to build a baseball stadium. The plan never got traction with the City Council and eventually fell apart.
Shockoe Bottom has a long history as a former slave-trading hub. The area holds the Lumpkin’s Jail site, where slaves brought from Africa were held until they were sold. Also in the area, a parking lot owned by Virginia Commonwealth University was discovered to have slaves buried underneath. That land is now known as the African Burial Ground. In 2011, VCU turned the land over to the city after three years of protests. The asphalt was removed through volunteer work, according to the Sacred Ground Historical Reclamation Project’s website.
Over the next few months, the Shockoe Alliance will continue working to come up with a solid plan for the museum and other parts of the memorial park.
Nearly half of the respondents to a county survey say they support the idea of a civilian review board for the Henrico Division of Police, but members of the Board of Supervisors were at odds over the idea Tuesday.
While county officials said they are waiting for the Virginia General Assembly to take up potential police reforms in a special session next month, Supervisor Tyrone Nelson urged the board in Tuesday’s meeting to begin discussing the proposal, which he made nearly two months ago.
Nelson has said in interviews that he wants the board to be independent of law enforcement and vested with the authority to investigate complaints against officers. Supervisor Pat O’Bannon on Tuesday questioned whether independent civilian oversight of the police is necessary.
O’Bannon, one of three Republicans on the five-member board, said she isn’t sure if there is a policing problem the county needs to solve.
“I think we should look into it differently. It doesn’t have to be a citizen review board. It could be a new program in the division of police,” she said. “Don’t start with a perceived solution.”
The remaining board members said more time is needed for input and public discussion.
Nelson’s proposal comes as elected leaders across the nation seek reforms targeting systemic racism and police brutality following the Minneapolis police killing of George Floyd and ensuing civic unrest.
Henrico’s chief prosecutor last month announced plans to hire a deputy to oversee complaints against police. On Monday, the Richmond City Council agreed on preliminary steps to create its own civilian review board and new protocols for police responding to people experiencing a mental health crisis.
Nearly half of the 300 respondents to Henrico’s poll expressed support for creating a review panel, although the survey did not explicitly ask whether people backed the idea, according to a presentation by a county auditor Tuesday. About a quarter of the respondents dissented. The remaining respondents (28%) expressed no definitive opinion, instead asking questions or providing suggestions.
The results were based on comments submitted between June 29 and July 21.
In the emails supporting its creation, respondents said it would help build trust between police and the public, particularly the Black community. Many opponents questioned its need, saying it would be politically motivated, and that civilians without law enforcement experience should not pass judgment on police.
But Nelson said the systemic racism and police misconduct that protesters and activists are speaking to resonates with some county residents, particularly those who have had poor experiences with law enforcement.
“As a Black person, there’s no way I’m going to sleep at night thinking about this stuff,” he said. “How am I going to sit here as an elected official when I have an opportunity to be a voice for people who have not always felt like they have a voice?”
Nelson and Frank Thornton, who are Democrats and the board’s only African Americans, said they took issue with some opposition to the idea. Thornton said some of the language appeared to be “coded” racism. Nelson said he felt detractors were writing off the idea, saying he was “anti-cop.” He dismissed the sentiment.
Supervisor Dan Schmitt did not express an opinion about the idea of an independent civilian review board. He said the discussion so far is raising questions that still need answers, noting that more than a quarter of the respondents did not explicitly say whether they support the idea. He noted that constituents are also contacting him daily by phone or text message to weigh in on the matter.
Like other localities in Virginia, Henrico is able to keep complaints against the police and investigations into them secret because of exemptions in the Virginia Freedom of Information Act.
According to a report on the county’s website, the police department’s internal affairs division investigated 120 complaints; only two of the complaints were deemed justified, while another 30 were “sustained,” meaning that evidence found supported the complainant’s allegations.
With one investigation still pending, the remaining 89 cases were dismissed with investigators clearing officers or determining there was not enough evidence to sustain the complaint.
In response to a request from the Richmond Times-Dispatch, Henrico police earlier this month declined to disclose copies of the complaints and records of how they were resolved.
In late June, the Virginia Legislative Black Caucus rolled out a police reform platform calling for localities to adopt civilian review boards for their police departments, with the authority to subpoena officers and departments for records.
Whatever might happen in the General Assembly’s special session next month, Del. Lamont Bagby, D-Henrico, the chairman of the Black Caucus, said he wants localities in rural and suburban areas to consider adopting the boards.
“I do have a fear that some of the localities that need it the most won’t craft a civilian review board,” he said. “It’s not just a city challenge. This is an opportunity for all localities to step up and rethink policing.”
Residents can continue submitting comments to the county at civilian firstname.lastname@example.org. The county will hold a public hearing and another work session on the subject next month.
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A giant hologram of George Floyd made its public debut on Tuesday night as it was projected onto a transparent screen in front of the Robert E. Lee statue on Monument Avenue in Richmond. Floyd’s killing in police custody in Minneapolis sparked widespread social justice protests, including those in Richmond, and some of his family members made the trip to Richmond for the one-night event. The George Floyd Hologram Memorial Project is happening in partnership with the George Floyd Foundation and the petition website Change.org. They picked Richmond for the first stop on a weeklong tour because of the city’s ties to the Confederacy.
“The hologram will allow my brother’s face to be seen as a symbol for change in places where change is needed most,” Floyd’s brother Rodney Floyd said in a news release.
The tour also was inspired by the 1961 Freedom Rides, and it will make stops in North Carolina, Georgia and elsewhere.
Visit Richmond.com for more on the hologram project.
Amid a rising number of new COVID-19 cases in Virginia, Gov. Ralph Northam on Tuesday announced new public restrictions aimed at curbing a dramatic surge in the Hampton Roads area.
While the rest of the state will remain under Phase Three guidelines, private and public gatherings in the state’s eastern region will be limited to 50 people, compared with the current statewide limit of 250.
The Northam administration is also moving to shut down bar activity in the Hampton Roads area, and, as such, will mandate that all restaurants stop serving alcohol at 10 p.m. and close down for service at midnight.
In addition, restaurants will now need to limit indoor dining capacity to 50%. Current Phase Three guidelines pose no capacity limits and say only that parties must be socially distanced.
The stricter restaurant guidelines will apply only to a subset of the state’s eastern region: Virginia Beach, Chesapeake, Norfolk, Suffolk, Portsmouth, Hampton, Williamsburg, Newport News, Poquoson, James City County and York County.
“This effectively closes all bars,” Northam said. “This is about stopping the spread of COVID-19 in Hampton Roads. ... We all know alcohol changes your judgment. You just don’t care as much about social distancing after you’ve had a couple of drinks.”
The new restrictions will go into effect at midnight on Friday.
Virginia law doesn’t allow for bars — only food establishments that also serve alcohol, though many businesses have adapted their business models to create bar-like establishments.
“Closing alcohol sales at 10 p.m. is our attempt to close bars and end the sort of congregating we’re seeing in bar-like establishments,” said Northam spokeswoman Alena Yarmosky.
In recent weeks, Virginia has seen its count of new daily COVID-19 cases rise after weeks of downward trends. The seven-day average of new daily cases hovers above 800, not far from the 1,036 average seen at the state’s peak on May 21. (Some of those increases can be chalked up to increases in testing.)
Much of that growth has stemmed from dramatic increases in the state’s eastern region, a hot spot for beachgoers.
Statewide, the share of people testing positive for COVID-19 is just above 7%, but it is 11% in the eastern region. In some localities within the region, the positivity rate has reached nearly 20%.
An increase in the positivity rate, according to health experts, should prompt additional testing to make sure outbreaks are contained. Northam and Dr. Deborah Birx, a top White House official working on the nation’s coronavirus response, on Tuesday acknowledged delays of 14 days or more before some individuals receive their COVID-19 test results, largely stemming from backlogs at the nation’s largest private labs.
The administration’s decision falls in line with recommendations that federal officials brought to Virginia’s doorstep on Tuesday.
During a meeting in Richmond, Birx urged Virginia leaders to increase public restrictions to curb the spread of the virus amid an uptick in cases.
She said the federal government is urging universities to reopen their labs to help build additional capacity. It is also urging hospitals and clinics to batch-test large numbers of samples from people believed to be at low risk, and run individual tests only if the batch comes back positive. The practice is known as pool testing.
Birx met with Northam and other Virginia officials as part of a multistate tour that includes Indiana, Ohio, Kentucky and Tennessee. All five states are seeing a rise in new daily COVID-19 cases.
She said such measures as restricting indoor dining, closing down bars and increasing mask wearing have been successful in states with growing COVID-19 numbers.
Her cautionary message on Tuesday seemed a departure from past interactions between states and the White House, which has at times chided states for being heavy-handed with public restrictions.
For example, President Donald Trump has at times challenged face mask orders, while Birx on Tuesday urged “100% mask mandates.”
Northam said he and Birx did not discuss the president. Still, during a news conference with reporters, Northam noted the disconnect.
“She advocates for wearing masks, for social distancing, staying at home unless you need to go out, while the message from the president is to ‘liberate’ Virginia and put pressure on governors like myself” to reopen in-person schooling in the fall, he said.
Birx’s message on mask wearing went further than what health officials in Virginia have advised.
Northam’s face mask order requires people to wear masks inside in settings where people congregate, like office buildings and stores.
Birx said Tuesday that people residing with someone who is particularly vulnerable to the virus — the elderly or those with pre-existing health challenges — should consider wearing a mask in their home.
Northam agreed that Birx’s advice of masks doesn’t fully align with the mask order he issued. He said that overall, people should get used to wearing masks broadly, according to their particular circumstances. He said he wears his mask outdoors, with some exceptions, like when he is running.
“We have to use some common sense, but as a general rule, we have to get used to wearing masks,” Northam said.
Colonial Heights Public Schools students will have the opportunity to head back into the classroom for the start of the 2020-2021 academic year.
During an in-person meeting Tuesday, the Colonial Heights School Board unanimously voted to allow families the choice between virtual learning and a five-day return to the classroom.
At any point, however, the decision could be reversed and the school system could go fully virtual, Superintendent William Sroufe said Tuesday.
“I think the plan allows us to go into virtual at any time. Families should even prepare now about going into virtual,” Sroufe said. “I think it’s a possibility for sure moving forward. It is not ideal, but it’s a possibility.”
As of Tuesday morning, there were 175 confirmed COVID-19 cases in Colonial Heights with 20 recorded deaths, according to state data.
In a survey of parents, 77% of families preferred a traditional return to school, with the remaining 23% choosing virtual instruction. In a different question, 13% of families answered “we don’t believe in-person instruction will be safe and want only distance learning.”
The school system plans to have 10 to 14 students in each classroom. Within its five schools — three elementary, one middle and one high school — there were 2,899 students for the 2019-2020 academic year, according to state data.
If the school system is unable to accommodate all the family requests for a five-day return, a rotation schedule will be implemented, splitting students between A and B days, having the students be taught virtually the days they are not in the school. All siblings will be scheduled for the same days.
Three online community forums were held last week for families broken down by elementary, middle and high school ages.
During the elementary school forum, Sroufe addressed a question regarding daily transportation.
“We have said we will not guarantee social distancing on the buses because, quite honestly, it is not possible for us logistically. We do think a lot of parents are going to bring their kids and pick them up from school,” Sroufe said.
According to the parent survey, 41% of families intend to put their children on buses each day, as usual, 38% will walk or drive their children to school as usual, and 20% intend to drive their children to school.
Colonial Heights is the second public school district in the Richmond region planning to head back into the classroom.
As of now, the Hanover County school system will let families decide between virtual and a return to five-day, in-classroom learning. In a joint statement, the Hanover Education Association and the Hanover Professional Educators are asking for at least the first nine weeks of the school year to be virtual.
Last week, the Chesterfield County, Henrico County, Hopewell and Petersburg school boards voted individually to begin their respective school years virtually.
Virus in Va.
State COVID-19 cases increase by 922. Page A2
Northam will send localities $645M. Page A2
Concert series cancels 2020 season. Page A7
Blacksburg may see $70 million loss. Page B1