Banning chokeholds. Restricting the use of tear gas against crowds. Making it a hate crime to falsely call 911 for racial reasons. Ending no-knock warrants. Reducing police budgets and replacing some law enforcement services with trained mental health experts. Requiring courts to release racial data on people charged with minor crimes. Legalizing marijuana.
It might not all happen. But the Virginia Legislative Black Caucus says it should.
On Wednesday, the Black Caucus released a comprehensive list of policy priorities it will advocate for during a special session in Richmond later this summer, where lawmakers are expected to take up a host of issues tied to the nationwide reckoning over policing and racial discrimination following the death of George Floyd.
“The Commonwealth is past the point for studies on policing and law enforcement — immediate action must be taken to eliminate law enforcement abuse, prevent and punish racist behaviors, weed out institutional discrimination and increase accountability at all levels of law enforcement,” the caucus said in a statement.
The calls for immediate change come during what was already a momentous shift in Virginia politics, with Democrats in full control of the state’s policymaking branches for the first time in decades.
An exact date for the special session — which will also involve budgetary discussions in response to the COVID-19 crisis – has not been set, though Gov. Ralph Northam has said he expects to call lawmakers back to Richmond in August.
Specific legislation hasn’t been drafted yet, but Del. Lamont Bagby, D-Henrico, the chair of the Black Caucus, said he’s optimistic that his colleagues’ priorities will advance.
“I’m extremely confident that we will move the bulk of that legislation forward,’ Bagby said in an interview. “I’ve been working aggressively as have my colleagues in making sure we hear everyone’s voices. Because everyone seems to be vested in a significant change.”
Because the Black Caucus has members from across the state, with the exception of far Southwest Virginia, Bagby said, the policy list was the product of “many different voices.”
“We’ve been able to talk with commonwealth’s attorneys and police departments and attorneys, individuals convicted of crimes and those individuals that are out protesting,” Bagby said.
The full list of Black Caucus priorities is as follows:
Address & Combat Racism Directly by:
Declaring Racism a Public Health Crisis in the Commonwealth of Virginia
Uncovering Racial Disparities in all Areas of Policy & Creating Solutions to Bridge the Gaps
Expanding Hate Crimes to Include False 911 Calls Based on Race
Requiring Courts to Publish Racial and Other Demographic Data of all Low-level Offenses
Hold Police Accountable, Strengthen Regulation, & Improve Transparency by:
Creating a Civilian Review Board with Subpoena Power
Ending Qualified Immunity & Making Changes to Sovereign Immunity
Establishing a Statewide Officer Database
Standardizing and Reforming Police Administration, Training, and Accountability
Expanding Police Decertification Criteria
Expanding the Use of Body Cams
Requiring Independent Investigations for All Police-Involved Shootings/Deaths
Prevent Law Enforcement Excessive Use of Force by:
Defining and Restricting Excessive Use of Force
Banning the Use of Chokeholds
Restricting the Use of Tear Gas and Militarization Tactics and Weapons Against Civilians
Passing “Breonna’s Law” to End No-Knock Warrants
Replace Law Enforcement’s Role in Certain Areas with Trained Specialists by:
Implementing the “Marcus Alert” to Require Behavioral/Mental Health Professionals to Respond to those thought to be having Mental Health Crises
DIVESTING from Large Law Enforcement Budgets & INVESTING More in Communities
Reducing SRO Presence in Schools & Replacing them with Mental Health Professionals
Continue the Fight for Criminal Justice Reform by:
Implementing Automatic Expungement
Passing Cash Bail Reform
Increasing Good Behavior Sentence Credits
Pass COVID-19 Relief & Protections by:
Expanding Protections Related to Housing & Evictions
Providing Rent and Mortgage Relief
Classifying Frontline Workers as Essential Workers
Requiring Hazard Pay and PPE for Essential Workers
Guaranteeing Paid Sick Leave