Reston, VA

This is an opinion column by Del. Ken Plum (D), who represents Reston in Virginia’s House of Delegates. It does not reflect the opinion of Reston Now.

Readers of this column are certainly aware that on more than one occasion I have praised the work of the 2020 General Assembly session as being historic and transformative.

I believe historians will agree with my assessment of the work of the legislature in the early months of 2020 to rid the state of discrimination of all kinds, but I wonder how they will explain the subsequent phase within several months of its adjournment. Within just a few months, the legislature was faced with the need to take even more historic steps to transform the state and to do so with a sense of urgency.

While the COVID-19 pandemic is an historic event that overlays what was happening in the social and political structure, it played a minor role. If anything, the pandemic demonstrated that the federal government under the current office holders is incapable of taking responsible actions regarding the coronavirus or the social and political unrest that abounds in this country. The pandemic has shown that state governments must step up in leadership related to the health crisis and to the stark inequalities in our society.

The pleas of George Floyd that he could not breathe were echoed by Black persons in Virginia and throughout the country that they could no longer live under the suppression of a knee on their necks that they have endured for centuries and has kept them from realizing equality under the law and in society. That is why the Virginia legislature cannot rest on the important steps it took in the opening months of this year towards a more just society but rather now must take significant next steps in the closing months of this year.

The House Courts of Justice Committee and the Public Safety Committee on which I serve will be identifying the next steps that must be taken beginning in a special session of the legislature in the next month or two. The Legislative Black Caucus has outlined next steps, with which I concur.

These steps include declaring that racism is a public health crisis in the state, reinstituting parole, creating a civilian review board of police actions with subpoena power, defining the use of excessive force including banning the use of chokeholds and ending no-knock warrants.

The Caucus also proposes the important step of investing more in community and less in law enforcement, funding mental health professionals to respond to those who may be having mental health crises, replacing resource officers in schools who are often police personnel with mental health professionals, restricting the use of militarization tactics and weapons against citizens and expanding the use of body cameras.

In issuing its agenda, the Legislative Black Caucus said in a printed release, “And on a larger scale, this moment is calling on leaders to combat institutional racism and societal discrimination that exists in the criminal justice system, economic structures, housing, education, in healthcare, mental health, in environmental policy and many other areas.”

Your suggestions on next steps are welcome, [email protected]

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