Statement on Temporary Restraining Order Against Richmond Police Department Denial

 New Virginia Majority and Virginia Student Power Network Statement on Temporary Restraining Order Against Richmond Police Department Denial

Today the court denied a request to issue a temporary restraining order that would require the Richmond Police Department (RPD) to stop declaring unlawful assemblies and to end the usage of excessive force against protesters.

Last week, members of Virginia Student Power Network (VSPN) and a group of college students and community members exercised their right to protest when the RPD fired tear gas, pepper spray, rubber bullets, and flash grenades into the crowd. These tactics are meant to silence protestors against using their right to express opposition against racial injustice in Richmond.

In turn, VSPN filed a complaint to ask the court to acknowledge that the RPD was operating unlawfully and an order to stop the usage of fear tactics to discourage protestors from exercising their constitutional rights, along with a request for an immediate order to stop these violations.

Ibby Han, director of VSPN said, “as we saw over the weekend, RPD has continued to specifically target and inflict violence upon anti-racist protestors. Now, more than ever, we need to do everything in our power to diminish the scope of policing, and reinvest in real, community-led safety.”

Tram’s Nguyen, co-director of New Virginia Majority said, “as a Richmond resident, I am appalled at the police action against protestors. The RPD’s actions have put everyone in the city under a police state, and it is reprehensible for any residents to feel afraid of the police, especially while protesting.” 

We strongly disagree with the decision of the court, and will continue to fight for protestors to engage in assembly and to vocalize their anger and frustration with those who are trying to maintain an unequal racial status quo.


New Virginia Majority statement on the Virginia Student Power Network (VSPN) lawsuit

New Virginia Majority stands in solidarity with Virginia Student Power Network (VSPN) with the lawsuit filed today on their behalf against the City of Richmond, the Richmond Police Department (RPD), and the Virginia Department of State Police (VSP) for violating their constitutional right to free speech and assembly.

Over the past few weeks, there has been an escalation of police violence against protestors, which speaks to the pattern of over policing in communities across Virginia. Marcus David Peters, a Black Richmond resident in a mental health crisis, was shot in 2018 by a Richmond police officer, and this is only one example of the unchecked police brutality that exists in this city and country. “A boiling point has been reached, and people from all walks of life are starting to demand an immediate stop to police violence and real policy solutions from our leaders,” stated Tram Nguyen, NVM co-executive director. “As a lifelong Richmonder, I’m heartened to see that young Black people are leading the way, and using their voices to protest violence and senseless killings. We should follow their lead.” 

Members of VSPN and a group of college students and community members were exercising their right to protest on June 22-June 23 when the RPD and VSP used excessive force against them, and fired tear gas, pepper spray, rubber bullets, and flash grenades into the crowd. These tactics are meant to silence protestors against using their voice against racial injustice, racial inequities and police brutality. 

VSPN is asking for a declaration from the court that RPD and VSP have operated unlawfully, and an order to prohibit them from engaging in activities that violate protesters’ constitutional rights. Along with the complaint, a request was filed for an immediate order to stop these violations. 

We strongly support this lawsuit, and are hopeful that the court will uphold the right to participate in lawful assembly so that all Virginians will feel safe to vocalize their beliefs.


New Virginia Majority Response to Governor Northam’s Rent Relief Program

June 25, 2020
Contact: Debra Freeman, dfreeman@newvirginiamajority.org, 757-452-1143

Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic in the United States, working class communities were already stretching their incomes in order to maintain their households, but now because of the COVID-19 pandemic, many people have lost their jobs, and are unable to provide housing stability for their families. 

Today, Governor Northam announced a rent relief program, where $50m from the CARES Act will be distributed to nonprofit organizations. These organizations will in turn provide money to landlords to make up the rental income that is currently being lost by tenants who are unable to pay rent. While this program is a good first step towards giving Virginians the relief they desperately need, this effort does not address that courts will resume the eviction process on June 29th, which leaves thousands of Virginians vulnerable to becoming homeless, and it is likely that many people will be evicted before the rent relief program is fully up and running.

The possibility of mass evictions in Virginia can be curtailed. We, along with the Legal Aid Justice Center and the Virginia Poverty Law Center, ask the governor to immediately use his broad emergency authority under Virginia Code 44-146.17 to prohibit evictions statewide until rent relief is fully funded and implemented. This will give tenants time to apply for rent relief and establish realistic payment plans for any unpaid balance. Additionally, this will allow landlords time to communicate with the courts and get cases dismissed with no need for any appearances from renters. 

In order for the rent relief program to be successful and to truly help Virginians, this is a crucial and common sense step that will allow the most economically vulnerable to stay in their homes and stay safe during this global pandemic. 


New Virginia Majority Response to Supreme Court Ruling on DACA

Today the Supreme Court ruled against the Trump administration’s efforts to end the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program with a 5-to-4 vote. The court’s opinion said that the Department of Homeland Security’s decision to rescind DACA was “arbitrary and capricious under the Administrative Procedure Act.”

New Virginia Majority applauds the decision of the Supreme Court to make nearly 800,000 “DREAMers” safe from deportation, allow them to legally work and to apply for college loans and financial aid. 

In 2017, when the lawsuit was first filed, DREAMERS like Jennifer, who came to America when she was ten years old, didn’t know what the future would hold. Today, that future is a little brighter. She said, “I received so much support from my teachers along the way who believed in me and inspired me to thrive even through difficult and uncertain times...no matter what, I know Virginia is my home and I am here to stay.”

Almost 25,000 Virginians have DACA status, and many of them are our neighbors. This protection has allowed them to create businesses, join the workforce, and provide for their families in cities across the commonwealth.

However, the Supreme Court’s decision is not a permanent one, as the administration can still rescind DACA. We need to work towards legislation that is inclusive for all Virginians, not just a few.

We will continue to stand with the immigrant community, along with communities of color and working class Virginians to live free from fear and with dignity, and will continue to work towards creating permanent protections for all immigrants.


New Virginia Majority Response to Protests in Virginia and Beyond

Across the state, people woke up to scenes of cars on fire, citizens being doused with tear gas and pepper spray and buses full of people who have been detailed but have been waiting for processing for hours. These bleak images on the news aren’t grainy black and white footage from cameras in 1964 during the height of the Civil Rights Movement in Selma or Montgomery. This is what is happening to citizens in the streets of Richmond in 2020.

Over the past weekend, our neighbors have taken to the streets to protest against the modern day lynching of George Floyd by police officers in Minneapolis and countless others who have been unnecessarily killed. But the problem isn’t just other cities. Right here in Richmond, Marcus David Peters, an unarmed high school biology teacher with no criminal history, was shot in 2018 by a police officer.

All of us need to be outraged. All of us need to be angry. But putting a Black Lives Matter hashtag on social media isn’t enough. Changing the name of a Richmond street to Arthur Ashe Boulevard is an honor, but it doesn’t actually provide any relief to people. If we actually want to see results...if we actually want to see a change in how Black and brown people are treated, then guess what? We have to actually do something. 

Several years ago, New Virginia Majority worked with the Richmond Transparency and Accountability Project (RTAP), a coalition that was started in order to force the Richmond Police Department to be more transparent and accountable, to demand that the department release data on its policing practices. Some goals were achieved toward greater transparency, but there is still work to be done.

Since then, our friends and allies at RTAP have requested a citizen review board that would be an independent body composed of our neighbors, with seats for Black and brown residents and those who live in heavily policed districts in order to review police behavior. In addition, the coalition has asked the police department to create the Marcus Alert, which would train police officers in crisis intervention techniques and make the presence of mental health experts mandatory along with officers, rather than continuing to give officers the option to resort to lethal force when dealing with a citizen in distress. 

At the state level, we should take this a step further and have citizen review boards in every locality across the Commonwealth. Additionally, Virginia must change its open records laws to ensure that officer misconduct information and disciplinary histories are not shielded from the public. 

Last year, we launched the Central Virginia Court Watch Initiative, created in response to the disproportionate representation of people of color and the poor in the criminal justice courts that feed into a system of mass incarceration. Court Watch uses community members to record and document court activities in order to gather data to spotlight bias or trends in sentencing.

We are at a crucial crossroads across the nation and across the commonwealth. It is time to demand more of our leaders. It is time to support each other through action and not just words. It is time to finally ensure that all of us are actually equal in practice, not just in theory. 

 


Coronavirus Hot Spot in Alexandria Endangers Entire Community At-Large

Alexandria, Va. - Today at 1 p.m., Tenants and Workers United (TWU) along with New Virginia Majority (NVM) will call on Governor Northam via Zoom to provide 10,000 tests over the next ten days to begin to accurately assess and address the spread of the virus, housing solutions to safely isolate, and the medical needs of the Arlandria neighborhood in Alexandria.  

Arlandria is primarily Latino, and as of yesterday 55% of the 572 tests given in Arlandria were positive. This rate of infection in this community of 16,000 is equivalent to global hot spot areas such as Queens, New York, Wuhan, China and Milan, Italy. Only concerted government action will control this outbreak, save lives and prevent even further community spread.

Evelin Urrutia, executive director of TWU said, "in our community, testing a person, finding them sick with coronavirus and then sending them back to a one-bedroom apartment where four other people live is a potential death sentence, and at the [very] least a formula for wider community spread. Arlandria residents need to work to survive...most work in construction, care and service [industries] and this community spread, if not addressed, will surely impact the entire region.”

Jon Liss, co-executive director of NVM, joins TWU in calling for the governor to immediately address what is happening in the Arlandria community. "Before the governor considers reopening the state he needs to leave the governor's mansion and see what is happening here. Without thousands of tests, access to isolated housing, and medical treatment, Arlandria residents face more illness and for some, death," said Liss.

To join the Zoom press conference or speak with staff, contact Debra Freeman at 757-452-1143 or dfreeman@newvirginiamajority.org.

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New Virginia Majority builds power in working-class communities of color, in immigrant communities, among LGBTQ people, women, youth, and progressives across the Commonwealth. We organize for racial and economic justice through large-scale political education, mobilization and advocacy around dozens of issues. We fight for a Virginia that is just, democratic and environmentally sustainable. For more information, visit our websiteand follow us on Twitter and Facebook at @NewVAMajority


New Virginia Majority Response to Driver Privilege Cards Passage

April 22, 2020
Contact: Debra Freeman, dfreeman@newvirginiamajority.org, 757-452-1143

For too long, undocumented Virginians have been denied access to driving privileges in the state and not been able to participate in their communities while being free from fear. 

Providing an alternative form of identification for undocumented residents is an opportunity to amend this standing injustice. New Virginia Majority applauds the General Assembly for adopting the Governor’s amendments to ensure Driver Privilege Cards are identical to state drivers licenses, and reducing its potential to make communities more vulnerable to attack. 

“This is a crucial advancement for those that have waited patiently just to participate as active members in their communities, to drive themselves to work, take loved ones to appointments, and go grocery shopping for their families,” said Jon Liss, co-executive director of New Virginia Majority in response. 

New Virginia Majority recognizes this as a step in the right direction for immigrant protections and toward a more inclusive Virginia. Our organizers, advocates and chapter members will continue to fight for these communities until they are granted the full protections and access to driver’s licenses in the state.


Statement on Minimum Wage Delay

This legislative session, the General Assembly took a significant step forward by passing HB 395, which would provide much needed relief for Virginia workers by raising the state’s minimum wage, beginning January 1, 2021. On Saturday, April 11, Governor Northam chose to amend this legislation by delaying the increase from January 1, 2021 to May 1, 2021. 

While New Virginia Majority supports this modest and long overdue raise for working families, we are deeply disappointed in Governor Northam’s actions. His actions do not put workers first. In fact, it delays low-wage workers the right to a living wage; many of the same workers who are considered essential during the Covid-19 pandemic. This four-month delay forces workers to struggle for an additional four months, all while facing an uncertain economy.

This moment of crisis in our commonwealth has further highlighted that low-wage workers are critical to maintaining the health and well-being of families across Virginia, and their contributions to the economy and their local communities should be valued and compensated without any additional delay. 

New Virginia Majority will continue to fight for working-class families and make progress towards an economy that works for all of us. 


Response to Loudoun County Emergency Food & Rental Assistance Fund

Last week the Loudoun County Board of Supervisors unanimously passed $150,000 in funding for Emergency Food Assistance $200,000 in funding for a Rental Assistance Program. Many families are facing sudden unemployment or reduced wages, which has caused difficulty in meeting monthly financial obligations, and both of these actions will directly help those most in need of assistance. 

La semana pasada, la Junta de Supervisores del Condado de Loudoun aprobó por unanimidad $ 150,000 en fondos para Asistencia Alimentaria de Emergencia $ 200,000 en fondos para un Programa de Asistencia de Alquiler. Muchas familias enfrentan problemas de desempleo repentinos o salarios reducidos, lo que ha causado dificultades para cumplir con las obligaciones financieras mensuales, y ambas acciones ayudarán directamente a quienes más lo necesitan.

These steps are crucial for Loudoun County residents, and particularly for undocumented immigrants and their families who have mixed immigrant statuses, as they have been left out of federal money that has been earmarked to help with the financial crisis. The actions of the board of supervisors shows other counties throughout the state that local governments can step in to assist their residents in a significant way.    

Estos pasos son cruciales para los residentes del Condado de Loudoun, y particularmente para los inmigrantes indocumentados y sus familias que tienen estatus migratorio mixto, ya que se les ha dejado fuera del dinero federal que se ha destinado a ayudar con la crisis financiera. Las acciones de la junta de supervisores muestran a otros condados en todo el Estado que los gobiernos locales pueden intervenir para ayudar a sus residentes de manera significativa.

“This is a significant step as recent federal relief packages have left out many vulnerable communities. As federal relief monies are dispersed to states, localities such as Loudoun County can be a model for how to include those that will continue to be left out,” said Thomas Assefa, organizing director of New Virginia Majority.

“Este es un paso significativo ya que los recientes paquetes de ayuda federal han dejado de lado a muchas comunidades vulnerables. A medida que los fondos federales de ayuda se dispersan a los Estados, las localidades como el Condado de Loudoun pueden ser un modelo para incluir a los que continuarán siendo dejados de lado ", dijo Thomas Assefa, director organizador de la Nueva mayoría de Virginia. 

 


NVM Response to Delayed Elections and Primaries

Governor Ralph Northam today announced a proposal to move local elections scheduled for May to November, and for the June primaries to be delayed until June 23. In light of the social distancing measures that are essential to reducing the spread of COVID-19 in Virginia, we support the governor’s proposal and his decision to put the health and safety of voters first. 

One of the most important duties of government is to keep citizens safe. If the election and primaries are allowed to happen in the midst of a pandemic that is ravaging the state, our legislative body will have overridden the needs of the people to gain political power. Holding elections on the current timetable would all but ensure low turnout, forcing voters to make an impossible decision between putting their health at risk to cast a ballot, and staying home to protect themselves and loved ones. When we limit whose voices are heard in elections, the legitimacy of our democracy is only undermined. 

Delayed elections will allow time for officials to make proper adjustments to ensure the safe administration of elections and to also allow for more than a dozen bills passed by the General Assembly to take effect, including the elimination of barriers to absentee voting laws (including giving voters the option to vote by mail), making election day a state holiday, establishing automatic voter registration, and allowing alternative forms of ID. Each of these are essential to ensuring that more people have access to the polls, and creating a Virginia that works for all of us. We look forward to continuing to work with Governor Northam and election administrators to ensure smooth, free and fair elections this year.

These are remarkable times that demand leadership: Virginia does not have to be another Wisconsin. We encourage the legislature to support the governor’s proposal, and ensure that no Virginian has to choose between being safe and participating in our democracy.


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