Back in March, a couple of weeks after the 2020 General Assembly session had adjourned, I wrote in my weekly column that while the annual meeting of the state legislature had been “historic, transformative, and consequential” there was also as I entitled the column “More Work Left to be Done.” At the time it was expected that many of the issues that had not been addressed would be taken up in future legislative sessions. There was no way to know the explosive nature of subsequent events that now make it clear that we must get back to work without delay.
The indelible photo of a policeman choking the life out of a black man without provocation or cause made it clear to me and others that there are injustices in our society that cannot wait to be addressed. The Black Lives Matter movement has made the need crystal clear. The stories of black persons who have come forth to tell what it is like to grow up black in this country make my heart weep. Fellow delegate Don Scott made the case clearly in an opinion piece he wrote last week: “The daily indignities of being black can be burdensome. If we respond to it all, we would have riots daily. Black people, for the most part, have always been tolerant. Even with all of our progress, President Barack Obama and all, we are reminded that George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and Ahmaud Arbery could have been any of us. That is why we are outraged and, truth be told, very afraid.” We cannot have a just society when so many of our citizens live in very real fear.
I am pleased that leadership of the House of Delegates and Senate have announced that the special session of the General Assembly, expected to be held in late August to deal with budgetary adjustments that must be addressed with the current economic depression, will be expanded to include proposed legislation to address injustices in our criminal justice system and in our policing. The Legislative Black Caucus of the General Assembly has proposed an extensive agenda that includes declaring racism a public health crisis, creating a civilian review board of policing action with subpoena power, ending qualified immunity for police officers, expanding the use of body cameras, defining and restricting excessive use of force including banning the use of chokeholds and restricting the use of tear gas and militarization tactics and weapons against civilians, passing “Breonna’s Law” to end no-knock warrants, reducing police presence in schools and replacing them with mental health professionals, reinstituting parole, passing cash bail reform, and more.
At the beginning of the session earlier this year the Speaker of the House of Delegates changed the name and mission of the Militia, Police and Public Safety Committee to be the Public Safety Committee. I am pleased to have been named a member of that committee. With the Courts of Justice Committee we will be having three virtual public hearings on a schedule to be announced. In the meantime, your suggestions on getting this work done would be appreciated.