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Black teens & dangling nooses in Louisiana:
The case of the Jena Six


There is a “white tree” in Jena, a little town of less than 3,000 people in rural central Louisiana.

It is not a white birch, or a tree painted white, but a tree that only white people are supposed to sit under.

And it’s on the grounds of Jena High School, where 20 percent of the students are Black.

Last September, a few Black students asked for and received permission from a school official to sit under the tree.

A year later, 17-year-old Mychal Bell has been convicted of two felonies: aggravated battery and conspiracy to commit aggravated battery. A16-year-old sophomore football star at the time he was arrested, Bell now faces up to 22 years in prison.

Five other Black students await similar trials on second-degree attempted murder and conspiracy charges. Ranging in age from 15 to 17 years old, the teens face up to 100 years in prison.

Here’s a brief account of what happened:

The day after the Black students challenged the unwritten “whites-only” policy, three nooses, in the school’s colors, were left hanging from the tree.

“Those nooses meant the KKK, they meant, N------, we’re going to kill you, we’re going to hang you till you die,” said Casteptla Bailey, a mother of one of the students, as quoted in the London Observer.

The Jena high school principal found that three white students were responsible and recommended expulsion. But the white school superintendent overruled the principal and gave the students a three-day suspension, saying the nooses were just a youthful stunt.

In response, Black students organized a sit-in under the tree. That prompted District Attorney Reed Walters to come to Jena High with law-enforcement officers to address a school assembly. According to testimony in a later court motion, Walters, who is white, threatened the protesting Black students, saying, “I can take away your lives with a stroke of my pen.”

The school was put on lockdown for the rest of the week. Racist incidents multiplied.
In December, a Black student was beaten after showing up at an all-white party.

A young white man at a convenience store pulled out a shotgun in a confrontation with young Black men, who wrestled it away from him. The Blacks were then arrested.

Then, on Dec. 4, a white Jena High School student -- who allegedly was the person who had beaten the Black student at the all-white party -- was knocked down, punched and kicked by Black students, reportedly after calling them the n-word.

The victim was taken to the hospital, treated and released. That evening he attended a social function.

Six Black students were arrested and charged with second-degree attempted murder. Bail ranged as high as $138,000. All six students were expelled from school. Few of their families could afford bond or attorneys.

In contrast, when the white victim was later arrested for bringing a loaded hunting rifle onto the high school grounds, he was released on a $5,000 bond.

Bell was tried before a white judge, prosecuted by a white district attorney and convicted by an all-white jury.

The DA reduced the charges from second-degree attempted murder to second-degree aggravated battery and conspiracy. Aggravated battery in Louisiana law requires that an attack be carried out with a dangerous weapon. The prosecutor argued that Bell’s tennis shoes could be considered a dangerous weapon. Bell’s public defender didn’t challenge the all-white jury pool, presented no evidence and called no witnesses.

The victim testified that he did not know if Bell hit him or not, but after just three hours of deliberation the jury found Mychal Bell guilty. He faces up to 22 years in prison.
Since the arrests, some of the defendants’ family members have started the Jena Six Defense Committee, receiving support from the NAACP, the Louisiana ACLU and other organizations. People’s jobs and livelihoods have been threatened for attending defense committee meetings, but the meetings have been well attended.

The case has attracted national and international attention, including from the Chicago Tribune, London Observer and the BBC.

For more information, contact the Jena Six Defense Committee, PO Box 2798, Jena,
LA 71342; e-mail: jena6defense@gmail.com.

Sources: TruthOut.org; ColorofChange.org; U.S. Census Bureau Web site



In our opinion

A rough time

It’s been a rough couple of weeks.

The end of August saw the second anniversary of the day Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans and the Gulf Coast. Despite tens of billions of dollars spent for recovery, 300,000 people are still displaced from the New Orleans metro area, 33,000 still live in FEMA trailers and “health care and public education are in tatters,”

The story of the Jena 6 began to finally get some national attention. That’s a group of Black teenagers in a small, central-Louisiana town facing up to 100 years in prison for a schoolyard fight. The story involves hanging nooses and a “whites-only tree” at the public high school. But all that’s way down in Louisiana, right?

Then, on Sept. 7, reports went out that a noose had been found hanging outside a Black cultural center at the University of Maryland in College Park. Three days later, the Rev. Lennox Yearwood Jr., president of the Hip Hop Caucus, was wrestled to the ground and arrested by six Capitol Hill police officers while waiting in line to hear Gen. David Petraeus defend the progress” in Iraq. The police reportedly broke one of the reverend’s ankles. You can see a video of the incident on You Tube at
http://spidel.net/blog/2007/09/10/rev-yearwood-attacked-and-beat-in-halls-of-con
gress-by-police.

Then came the one that was like a blow to the mid-section, the one that left you sick with shock, horror and anger beyond description -- On Sept. 10 it was announced that six West Virginia residents -- all of them white -- had been charged with kidnapping, torturing and sexually assaulting a young Black woman -- for at least a week. “Deputies found her with two black eyes, part of her hair had been pulled out, she had lacerations on her neck, and she had been physically, mentally and sexually abused,” according to the local sheriff, as quoted by CNN News. According to the criminal complaint filed in magisrate court, the victim had been forced to eat rat and dog feces and drink from a toilet.

So maybe, for a few weeks, White America got a little glimpse of what Black folks can still face in this modern, enlightened country. To say nothing of the million little indignities, minor injustices and endless petty annoyances that always seem to have something to do with race.

If so, maybe those white peace activists who see nothing wrong with staging a sit-in at the Washington, D.C., office of a Black icon of the civil rights movement -- or of staging an all-white, pro-impeachment demonstration outside Congressman Bobby Scott’s office in Jackson Ward -- will have cause to reflect on why their actions might possibly not be in the best interests of building unity in the overall progressive movement.

All people should protest the war in Iraq, Afghanistan and the threats to start a new war against Iran. But the truth is not everyone has to go half-way around the world to find a war to fight against.


Warring factions fail to unite

No, we’re not talking about the government in Baghdad.

It’s September, and once again the three major national U.S. anti-war coalitions -- United for Peace & Justice (UFPJ), Act Now to Stop War & End Racism (ANSWER) and the Troops Out Now Coalition (TONC) have called separate and competing protests.

In response, the Virginia Anti-War Network (VAWN) has decided to publicize all
the protests, but not endorse any of them. (Information about all three mobilizations appears on this issue’s back page.)

Unfortunately, this means that VAWN’s efforts are divided. Some affiliates, like those in Blacksburg, Roanoake and Richmond, are organizing for the Sept. 15 march in D.C. called by ANSWER. The Hampton Roads Peace & Justice Coalition is mobilizing for the Sept. 29 march called by TONC.

The Defenders, a founding member of VAWN, have endorsed both Sept. 15 and 29, but are concentrating on helping with security on Sept. 15. That’s because of the threat posed by the fascist organization Gathering of Eagles. (For a Defender analysis of the GOE, see www.vawn.org.)

There are principled differences between the UFPJ, which is oriented toward influencing the Democratic Party, and ANSWER and TONC, which are trying to build a movement for fundamental social change.

But if there’s a dime’s bit of difference between the politics of Sept. 15 and Sept. 29, it escapes us.

It’s way too late in the game for the left wing of the anti-war movement to allow the weakness that comes from disunity because two coalitions are each busy trying to gain an organizational advantage over the other.

Maybe it’s time for the grassroots -- including VAWN -- to refuse to mobilize for any more actions called by ANSWER or TONC until they can decide to work together in a principled way.

Otherwise, they’ll be unity in the halls of Baghdad long before we see it in the streets of D.C.

by Phil Wilayto


Pardoning Gabriel

By Ana Edwards

This Oct. 10 will mark the 207th anniversary of the execution in Richmond of the great slave rebellion leader Gabriel. The powerful, literate, 24-year-old blacksmith was the architect of what many historians describe as the best-planned attempt at a slave rebellion in this country’s history. If not for a terrible storm that wiped out bridges and roads on the day of the planned rebellion, Gabriel and his thousands of followers might well have succeeded in ending slavery in Virginia, thus changing the course of U.S. history. Gabriel and at least 25 of his comrades paid for their attempt at freedom with their lives. But despite the attempted rebellion’s historical significance and continuing social relevance, Gabriel’s story remains largely untold in the city where he worked and died.

Earlier this year, the president of the Virginia State Conference NAACP, Linda Thomas, wrote a letter to Virginia Gov. Timothy L. Kaine requesting a pardon for Gabriel.
On Aug. 30, the 207th anniversary of the thwarted insurrection, Virginia NAACP
Executive Director King Salim Khalfani announced the successful results of that request at a press conference held on the campus of Virginia Union University. Gov. Kaine, a former civil rights attorney, had pardoned the rebellion leader, stating in a June 26 letter to President Thomas that “Gabriel’s cause -- the end of slavery and the furtherance of equality of all people -- has prevailed in the light of history.” In a statement released by Khalfani, the NAACP welcomed Kaine’s decision, stating, “Gabriel and his colleagues were freedom fighters and deserve their rightful place in history as women and men of integrity who fought for freedom.

... In the capital of the Confederacy, where monuments to the traitors of the Union are maintained with tax dollars, this is a momentous occasion.” Virginia is the first state in the country to commemorate 400 years of being a territorial and cultural colonizer. It is the first state to express its “profound regret” for slavery and the oppression of Native Americans. Virginia has apparently atoned for its role in slavery by installing a Reconciliation statue in downtown Richmond, near where Lumpkin’s slave jail once stood in the area Blacks called the Devil’s Half-Acre.

Now Virginia has apparently become the first state to pardon -- sort of -- a slave rebellion leader. (A Kaine spokesman later explained the pardon was “informal,” since a formal pardon is “usually for a living person, not a person who has died.”)

Still, Kaine’s action is significant. By pardoning Gabriel, even “informally,” the chief executive of the state where slavery was legally formalized was stating that Gabriel and his comrades were justified in taking up arms against an oppressive system. He was in essence recognizing the right to rebellion, if not revolution. “It is important to acknowledge that history favorably regards Gabriel’s cause while consigning legions who sought to keep him and others in chains to be forgotten,” Kaine stated in his letter to the NAACP.

Still, the “pardon” wasn’t met with universal joy. On one Web site, “Assault on Black Folk’s Sanity,” a contributor wrote that the pardon was another attempt to get people to believe we live in a “color-blind world.” Another wrote, “Pardons mean nothing when you are dead. There are many living political prisoners that need to be released from prison!”

The question remains: What is the value of pardoning Gabriel? He was punished for his attempt to free people from the oppression of slavery and social inequity. Should he be pardoned by the very state that both oppressed them and made it a crime to attempt to end that oppression? Why not simply clear him of criminal charges altogether? And what, then, is Gabriel’s legacy? Those questions and others will be explored at the 5th Annual Gabriel Forum, to be hosted on Wednesday, Oct. 10, by the Sacred Ground Historical Reclamation Project of the Defenders for Freedom, Justice & Equality.

The program is scheduled for 7 p.m. at Asbury United Methodist Church, 324 N. 29th St. in the city’s Church Hill neighborhood. On Oct. 10, 2004, the Defenders unveiled a state historical marker at 15th and East Broad streets commemorating Gabriel’s execution at the nearby gallows. To date, the marker is the only official recognition in Richmond of Gabriel and his rebellion. The marker also refers to the “Burial Ground for Negroes,” the cemetery for free and enslaved Africans and poor whites that lies abandoned and disrespected under a privately owned parking lot at 15th and East Broad streets.

To learn more about Gabriel and the significance of the rebellion that bears his name, log onto www.DefendersFJE.org.

Corrections:

There were several local news accounts of Gov. Kaine’s pardoning of Gabriel, and most included some serious historical errors.

Most egregious was the city’s daily newspaper, which quoted former Richmond editor Virginius Dabney’s view that Gabriel had planned a “wholesale massacre” of whites in Richmond and other slave-holding areas. Not true. According to Gabriel scholar Douglas Egerton, Gabriel had instructed his followers not to harm any non-slaveholding whites, including Quakers, Methodists and the French. He also recruited some working-class whites into his growing army, along with Native Americans. Dr. Egerton is the author of “Gabriel’s Rebellion: the Virginia slave conspiracies of 1800 and 1802.”

The daily newspaper also repeated the falsehood that the rebellion had been “thwarted after two slaves confessed to a white plantation owner, who immediately alerted Gov. James Monroe, a future president. A powerful rainstorm forced a delay in the rebellion, giving the militia time to round up Prosser and others.” That was the same view expressed by the state committee that was to decide the text on the historical marker erected by the Defenders in 2004. However, after the Defenders presented testimony by both Dr. Egerton and Dr. Haskell Bingham, a descendant of Gabriel and the family’s oral historian, the committee agreed that the rainstorm had come first, not the betrayal -- an important point.

Unfortunately, The Richmond Free Press, Richmond’s most influential Black-owned newspaper, continued in its coverage to refer to Gabriel as “Gabriel Prosser.” According to both Dr. Edgerton and Dr. Bingham, there is no written or oral evidence that Gabriel ever used or was called by the name “Prosser,” the name of the man who held him in bondage.


Red Onion prisoner sues; says beaten by guards

A prisoner at Virginia’s Super-Max Red Onion State Prison in Pound is headed for District Court Sept. 27 for a trial by jury. This time, however, he’ll be the one bringing the charges. Jonathan Talbert has filed a civil suit against correctional officers at Wallens
Ridge State Prison, claiming the guards severely beat him on Sept. 18, 2005. Talbert states that, while incarcerated at Wallens Ridge, he overheard a group of guards planning to beat him and then falsely claim they were responding to the prisoner’s resistance.

According to Talbert, the guards then beat him while he was on his knees, shackled, with his hands cuffed behind his back. As a result, he says, he suffered internal bleeding, blurred vision and lacerations that required stitches, among other injuries. Prior to, during, and after the attack, he says, the officers yelled racial slurs and ridiculed his Muslim beliefs. Talbert is African-American and a follower of Islam. The prisoner states he has medical files, eyewitnesses, photographs of his injuries, a videotape showing the unprovoked attack, records showing a history of abuse by the accused guards and in the facility in general, and other evidence to corroborate his case. He is accusing the defendants of conspiracy, assault and battery, racial discrimination and violating his freedom of religion, among other offenses.

The suit is scheduled for jury trial on Sept. 27 and 28 in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Virginia, 322 E. Wood Ave., Big Stone Gap. The case is cited as: Talbert v. W. Smith et al, civil action no: 7:05-cv-00736. For more information, contact: Superior Talbert #346496, Red Onion State Prison, P.O. Box 1900, Pound, VA 24279. Also, FedUp!/The Human Rights Coalition, 5125 Penn Ave., Pittsburgh, PA 15224; Phone: (412) 802-8575; e-mail: Fedup@riseup.net.


Ratafarian prisoners still in segregation after 8 years

Eight years ago, the Virginia Department of Corrections instituted new “grooming” regulations requiring all male prisoners to keep their hair short and faces clean-shaven.
One group of prisoners, who are Rastafarians, refused to comply, saying it would violate their religious beliefs. They were confined to their cells for 23 hours a day. Eight years later, they are still in segregation. This situation has continued despite some media coverage and the steadfast efforts of the organization Prisoners & Families of Prisoners for Equal Justice. A letter to the Defender from one of these prisoners, Ras Solomon Tafari, appears on page 6 of this issue. This newspaper is appealing to any attorney reading this story to please contact us so we can put you in touch with the writer.


Richmond rally to address prison issues

An afternoon of events to support prisoners and reduce crime is scheduled for noon to 4 p.m. on Saturday, Oct. 20, in Richmond’s Monroe Park. Titled “Justice for All,” the agenda includes appearances by radio and TV personalities, musical groups, a “Prison Awareness Reading Play,” resource & information tables, voter registration, artwork by incarcerated artists and free food packages for homeless people. Among the issues to be addressed are prisoner warehousing versus education and rehabilitation, at-risk youth programs, prison reform, fair and equal housing, employment for ex-prisoners and the homeless and restoration of rights for people convicted of felonies. The rally is being sponsored by RIHD (Resource Information Help for the Disadvantaged). Participants are asked to bring a can of food to help feed the homeless, a high percentage of whom are former inmates and prisoners.
For more information, call (804) 562-2123. E-mail: VaPrisonJustice@riseup.net;
InMateResource@aol.com; or OneRastaQueen@hotmail.com. Web site: www.rihd.org.


16 months

It’s been 16 months since the last fatal shooting in Richmond by a city police officer.
From June 2001 through May 2006, at least nine people were shot to death by Richmond police officers. Almost all were young Black men. A tenth man, a Latino, was killed by an off-duty Sheriff’s deputy. Four more men were reported to have shot themselves in the head while being approached or pursued by city police officers. The fatal shootings have largely stopped under the administration of Police Chief Rodney Monroe, who took c command of the force in February 2005. The absence of police shootings also follows a sustained campaign of community pressure organized by Youth for Social Change, the Virginia State Conference NAACP and the Defenders for Freedom, Justice & Equality.
As a result of the community pressure, there were several grand jury investigations, resulting in charges being filed against two police officers. One was convicted and received a small fine. In the other case, the officer was exonerated, but the shooting victim’s family received a monetary settlement from the city. Chief Monroe declined to comment on why the shootings may have ended.


The Richmond Defender

May - June 2007

Vol. 3, No. 3, Issue 21

 

Petersburg city workers say: 'We need a union!'

By Breanne Armbrust and Phil Wilayto


The scene was the back room of a restaurant in downtown Petersburg. About a dozen workers, all of them employed by the City of Petersburg, were sitting around, busy with small talk. They had just finished meeting with Henry Ford, a local organizer with the Virginia Public Service Workers Union - UE I60, a union that organizes both public and private workers.

These workers want a union.

“We need someone to fight for us,” one explained. “You go up against them alone, and they all come out and surround you.”

One by one the workers, most of them African-American, all of them male, started opening up to a reporter from The Richmond Defender, talking about the problems they said they faced working for the City of Petersburg.

None wanted their name in the newspaper, saying they feared retaliation from the City.

“We got one guy who’s been here nine years,” said one man. “He started out at six-and-change, and nine years later he’s making nine-and-change. How can you live on that? You can’t, unless you have something else on the side.

“And now they’re using a lot of temps, and they’re not even making that much.”

“They lie to you,” another added. “One guy when he was hired, they told him the medical was $60 a paycheck. Then when he got his first check, it was $285, not what he was told.”

“And the pay is so low, they’re not paying enough into retirement,” added a third.

“There’s a lot of discrimination,” the first man said. “People pick people for certain jobs because they’re friends, not by how long you’ve been there.”

“There’s a lot of racism,” said another worker, who happened to be white. “This one supervisor got mad at one person and called him ‘a dumb n——-. And that guy doesn’t want to hire people if the address on their application is from certain neighborhoods, because he knows they’re probably Black.”

“The issue should be the taxpayers’ money,” said one of the Black workers. “If you pay somebody $10 an hour and they’re running a $170,000 street sweeper, how do you expect them to care about it and take good care of it? But instead they take the public’s money and shove it into a sports complex.”

“And $4 million to rebuild a golf course,” added another.

“Why buy abandoned buildings and lots, instead of investing in your own people?” asked another man.

How about respect on the job, the reporter asked.

“There ain’t no respect,” the first worker said. “They’re right and you’re wrong. If you complain about something, they say if you don’t like it you can go find another job.”

So, why don’t you just look for another job?

“There are no jobs in Petersburg,” said a man who hadn’t spoken up yet. “Or if you do find one, it pays fifty cents an hour less than the City. And Petersburg is one of the cheapest places to live. I moved up to Church Hill, but had to move back to Petersburg. I couldn’t make it up there.”

According to the 2000 U.S. Census, Petersburg’s population is 33,740 people, nearly 80 percent of whom are African-American. The poverty rate is 19.6 percent. More than 30 percent of the adult population hasn’t completed high school. The medium household income is just $28,851, compared to $41,994 for the country as whole.

These workers are stuck. They make the city run, but they don’t make enough money to be able to provide a decent life for themselves and their families. There aren’t any better jobs around and they can’t move, because they don’t make enough money.

No wonder they want a union.

But building one won’t be easy. For one thing, Virginia is one of only two states in the country that outright forbid state and local governments to bargain with a public workers’ union. (See accompanying story above.)

In addition, according to UE Local 160 organizer George Waksmunski, employee complaints about poor working conditions have gone unanswered by the City Superintendent.

But instead of backing down, Waksmunski said, the city workers are “mobilizing to take demands to City Hall for better benefits and working conditions.” Some 78 city employees have already signed cards stating they want to be represented by UE.

These workers are employed in various departments, including street maintenance, transportation, buildings and grounds maintenance, utilities, construction and social services. In all, more than 300 workers are employed in these areas, according to the union.

At the time this article went to press, the workers and union organizers were anticipating a meeting with Petersburg Mayor Annie M. Mickens.

Waksmunski said the union is optimistic that the mayor will attempt to resolve the workers’ concerns.


For more information on the campaign by Petersburg city workers to build a union, contact UE Local 160 toll free at (888) 868-6466 or log onto www.vaue160.org.





Still reeling from Va. Tech shootings ... Richmonders hit with ‘urban war exercises’

Staff Report


All across the world, people reacted in horror and shock at the news of the horrific shootings at Virginia Tech in Roanoke, Va.

That was on April 17.

On April 18, Richmond Mayor L. Douglas Wilder issued a press release announcing that the U.S. Marine Corps would be in Richmond the next day to begin 11 days of “urban warfare exercises,” complete with “low-flying helicopters and artillery fire using blank ammunition.”

Residents were warned that they “may hear simulated sounds of combat, including gunfire with blank ammunition, particularly on April 29,” the last day of the exercises.

Mayor Wilder, himself a former Marine, enthusiastically welcomed the war games to the city.

“We are pleased to support the Marine Corps in its efforts to better prepare our soldiers for potential combat in urban areas abroad as well as right here on home soil, if ever needed,” Wilder said.

By April 19, the first day of the exercises, the Defenders for Freedom, Justice & Equality had issued a press release condemning the war games and calling on Mayor Wilder and Virginia Gov. Tim Kaine to intervene to get them canceled.

“In light of the horrific shootings this week at Virginia Tech, it is totally inappropriate for the government to subject the residents of Richmond to the sights and sounds of simulated urban warfare,” said Defender spokeswoman Ana Edwards.

Edwards noted that the time period for the exercises included April 20, the day designated as a national day of mourning for the victims of the Virginia Tech shootings.

“This 11-day-long exercise is inappropriate on so many levels,” Edwards said. “First, the sound of gunfire will be deeply disturbing to many city residents, particularly children, already upset by the tragic events at Virginia Tech. “

“Second, it perpetuates the atmosphere of conflict that can create a context for such senseless acts of violence. And third, it implies official local support for the ongoing wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.”

The Defenders’ release also pointed to one more disturbing aspect of the exercises: their use as preparation for possible military action here at home.

That initial statement was endorsed by 19 individuals and organizations, including labor unions, community groups and anti-war organizations. Within a week, there were 37. (See list below.)

Michael Paul Williams, a columnist for the city’s daily newspaper, wrote a story on the Defenders objections that was carried by United Press International and picked up by media across the country.

Meanwhile, the Defenders sent out a mass e-mail asking people to call or e-mail if they heard or saw any unusual activity.

“I heard (the helicopters) daily during the early days,” reported Zakia Shabazz, who lives off Hull Street near the county line. “They were flying over my house quite often, very low, right at treetop level.”

Dieyah Rasheed said she had seen two choppers flying over Chamberlayne Avenue, headed north.

By April 29, the final day of the war exercises, the calls and e-mails were coming in hot and heavy --- from Church Hill, South Side, Oregon Hill, Forest Hill, out by Richmond International Airport and into Chesterfield County.

“When I heard the helicopter directly above my roof (and my entire brick house was shaking), I couldn’t help thinking, ‘What if the chopper went down in a heavily populated neighborhood?,’ asked Chesterfield resident Andrea Miller. “Is this really something the Marines and the FBI want to simulate?”

Even the tony Fan District wasn’t spared. Robin Poulton e-mailed that “We had helicopters over Grove Avenue last night around 11 p.m., very noisy for at least five minutes.”

With all the activity, you would think there would be a lot of news coverage.

Not so. It took the city’s daily newspaper until the third day of the exercises to write about them. That story and Williams’ column the same day were the paper’s only coverage.

The Defenders called for a protest to take place outside City Hall on April 29, the last day of the war games. Co-sponsored by the Richmond Peace Education Center, the Virginia Anti-War Network and the VCU Campus Anti-War Network, the action drew two dozen people who held signs that read, “Gov. Kaine & Mayor Wilder: What were you thinking? No ‘War Games’ in Richmond!”

A few days later, a Defender reporter spoke with Marine spokesman Capt. Clark D. Carpenter. He explained that the training exercises had involved some 1,500 Marines and sailors from the 22nd Marine Expeditionary Unit stationed at Camp Lejeune, N.C.

Most of the Marines conducted their exercises at Fort Pickett, he said, near Blackstone, about 70 miles southwest of Richmond. But there were also exercises in urban settings: Richmond, the towns of Blackstone and Crewe, as well as the Fort Union Military Academy.

The Richmond exercises, Capt. Carpenter said, involved 15 helicopters, with seven or eight flying at any one time. One goal was to practice landing and taking off in an urban setting. In Richmond, this included landings at the wastewater plant and a stone quarry.

Contrary to what many people were saying, the helicopters involved were not Black Hawks, Capt. Carpenter said. They were AHLW Cobras, CH46 Sea Knights, CH53E Super Stallions, UHLN Hueys, and one operation involving an AV8B carrier.

“That’s a jet flying high, so probably people would not have heard that,” he said.

The last day’s exercise included a mock raid on Richmond’s now-vacant Armstrong High School, complete with Marines running through the halls, shooting off blanks.

Asked about the use of artillery mentioned in the mayor’s press release, the captain said that was “completely inaccurate.”

So, was there any thought given to postponing or canceling the war exercises because of their timing so soon after the Virginia Tech shootings?

“No, there wasn’t a discussion on that,” he said, “and not because we were insensitive to what happened. It was a sensitive time for Virginia and America in general.

“We talked to everyone, got the word out to all Marines who may interact with the community, to just be as sensitive as possible, because this was a very unfortunate incident. However, we have to deploy, and rescheduling was not possible due to the deployment schedule.”

Capt. Carpenter said Marine personnel went door-to-door in the Armstrong neighborhood before the “raid,” handing out fliers and giving the phone number for a hotline people could call if they had any questions or concerns.

Capt. Carpenter said the Marines involved in the exercise, including himself, are scheduled to be deployed sometime this summer. He declined to name the destination.

The Defender also called the Richmond office of the FBI, to find out what role that agency had played in the war games.

According to spokeswoman Dee Rybiski, the FBI’s Critical Incident Response Group, or CIRG, helped arrange a training venue, but was not involved in the exercises themselves.

According to the FBI Web site, CIRG was established in 1994 to facilitate the FBI’s rapid response to, and the management of, crisis incidents.



The following organizations and individuals endorsed the call for the cancellation of the “Urban Warfare Exercises”

Forrest Akers, Richmond community activist – Black Campus Progressives, Hampton University — Breanne Armbrust, VP, Communications Workers of America Local 2201, Richmond * — Janet Armstead, Block Captain Coordinator, 7 Eyes of Jackson Ward Neighborhood Watch, Richmond — Margaret Breslau, Steering Committee, Virginia Anti-War Network, Blacksburg – Rain Burroughs, A28.org Richmond impeachment event — -- Charlottesville Center for Peace & Justice — Duron Chavis, Happily Natural Day, Get Conscious Think Collective, Richmond – Elena Day, Charlottesville — - Defenders for Freedom, Justice & Equality, Richmond — John Gallini, Pax Christi Richmond — - Hampton Roads Peace & Justice Coalition — Lois Jones, Richmond Women in Black * — Lillie Kennedy, R. I. H. D., Inc., nonprofit volunteer group — Kathleen Kenney, former director, Richmond Catholic Diocese Office of Peace and Justice * — Malachy Kilbride, member, D.C. Anti-War Network; bd. member, Washington Peace Center; national coordinating committee member, Declaration of Peace * — - Michelle R. Kirby, Co-founder, Richmond Women in Black * — Allen Layman, President, United Electrical Workers Local 160, Staunton — Jamilah LeCruise, student, University of Richmond * — Little Flower Catholic Worker, Louisa County — Rev. Dr. Paul S. Martin, Change Of Heart Ventures Evangelistic Ministries, s, Richmond – Luna Negra, Norfolk peace activist — TTom Palumbo, member, Veterans For Peace, Norfolk * — Pax Christi Richmond — The People United, Shannon Farms — Robin Edward Poulton, President, V-Peace, Virginia Institute for Peace and Islamic Studies, Richmond — -- Prosser-Truth Division #456, UNIA-ACL, Richmond — The Richmond Defender newspaper — Richhmond Green Party — Richmond Peace Education Center — Tanja Softic, Associate Professor, University of Richmond * — David Swanson, D.C. Director, Democrats.com; co-founder, AfterDowningStreet.org; bd. member, Progressive Democrats of America * — United Parents Against Lead United, Inc., Richmond ond ? VCU Anti-War Network — Virginia Anti-Warr Network (VAWN) — Woodbridge Workers Committee — Cathy Woodson, Board Chair, Richmond Peace Education Center * Organization listed for identification only





Why we’re going to Iran

By Phil Wilayto


There was an interesting article about Iran this March in the New Yorker magazine.

The author was Seymour Hersch, the Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative journalist who in 1969 broke the story about the My Lai massacre in Vietnam and, more recently, exposed the mistreatment of detainees at Abu Graib prison in Iraq.

Hersch is generally considered to have access to important figures in the Pentagon and State Department, especially those who don’t necessarily agree with the way the Bush Administration is handling foreign policy.

In the article, Hersch quoted Flynt Leverett, a former official in the Bush Administration’s National Security Council, who refers to a “campaign of provocative steps to increase the pressure on Iran. The idea is that at some point the Iranians will respond and then the Administration will have an open door to strike at them.”

And, according to Hersch, the Bush Administration is already preparing its response:

“... the Pentagon is continuing intensive planning for a possible bomb attack on Iran, a process that began last year, at the direction of the President. In recent months, ... a special planning group has been established in the offices of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, charged with creating a contingency bombing plan for Iran that can be implemented, upon orders from the President, within 24 hours.”

Other accounts put the number of potential targets at as many as 10,000 – not just military targets, but also commercial and civilian.

This isn’t just abstract planning. As of March, there were two U.S. aircraft carrier groups in the Arabian Sea – the USS Eisenhower and the USS Stennis. Each typically carries hundreds of cruise missiles, more than 80 warplanes and a combined Navy and Marine Corps complement of 5,000 troops, plus accompanying warships. These massive carriers are like floating air force bases, meant not to defend the shores of the United States, but to enable it to strike at targets far overseas.

Hersch isn’t the only public figure to conclude that the U.S. intends to try and provoke a war with Iran. This past Feb. 1, Zbigniew Brzezinski, former National Security Adviser in the Carter Administration, told members of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee that the Bush Administration is seeking a pretext for war against Iran.

This is how the former Cold War architect said he saw the threat developing.

“If the United States continues to be bogged down in a protracted bloody involvement in Iraq, the final destination on this downhill track is likely to be head-on conflict with Iran and with much of the world of Islam at large.

“A plausible scenario for a military collision with Iran,” he testified, “involves Iraqi failure to meet the benchmarks; followed by accusations of Iranian responsibility for the failure; then by some provocation in Iran; culminating in a ‘defensive’ U.S. military action against Iran ....”

Here’s a quote from the Feb. 19, 2007, issue of Newsweek magazine:

“At least one former White House official contends that some Bush advisers secretly want an excuse to attack Iran. ‘They intend to be as provocative as possible and make the Iranians do something [America] would be forced to retaliate for,’ says Hillary Mann, the administration’s former National Security Council Director for Iran and Persian Gulf Affairs.”

All of this, of course, must be viewed in light of recent accusations by former CIA chief George Tenet that the Bush Administration had decided early on that it would invade Iraq, and then built a case to justify it – a case that has since been exposed as resting on falsehoods, deceptions and outright lies.

So why are President George W. Bush and his neocon puppet-handlers so dead set on attacking a country that condemned the attacks of 9-11, is opposed to Al Quida and in 2003 offered to meet with representatives of the United States and discuss all outstanding issues with no preconditions?

It’s because this developing and dangerous situation isn’t about Iran.

Nuclear power plants? The United States has them. So do 29 other countries — some 435 commercial nuclear power reactors in all, now supplying 16% of the world’s electricity. Why not Iran?

Nuclear weapons? The United Kingdom has them. So do France, China and Russia. Some reports put Israel’s inventory at more than 200 nuclear weapons. And Israel has openly threatened Iran with using them to stop the development of nuclear power for peaceful purposes.

And of course, the U.S. has some 10,000 nuclear weapons, more than the rest of the world combined. And it’s the only country that has ever used them – against defenseless civilians, at a time when no other country could retaliate.

Terrorism? Think Guantanamo Bay and Abu Graib, not to mention the genocide of Native Americans, the enslavement of millions of African people, the theft of half of Mexico and the crass exploitation of waves of poor European immigrants.

No, the Bush Administration wants to pick a fight with Iran because it has decided not to allow any country to possess the ability to defy the New American Empire.

This isn’t conjecture. The Pentagon laid it out in a draft position paper “leaked” to The New York Times back in 1997. The paper explained that the U.S. should allow no country or combination of countries – friendly or hostile, to aspire to become a regional power with the ability to defy the United States.

Remember, this was just a few years after the collapse of the Soviet Union, when U.S. strategists were grappling with how to consolidate their new status as the world’s sole “superpower.”

The same point was made later in a paper published in 2000 by the Project for a New American Century, a neocom think tank started by analysts now close to or members of the Bush Administration:

“At present the United States faces no global rival. America’s grand strategy should aim too preserve and extend this advantageous position as far into the future as possible.”

In other words, both the military and political establishments in the U.S. agree that only the United States should be in position to control a country, a region, a continent, the world.

And having destroyed Iraq as a regional military power, the Bush Administration sees Iran as the new sole regional power, and thus its new target.

What’s beind this barbaric arrogance and ambition? Is it just greed, like Midas gone mad by the sight of gold? Or an insatiable thirst for power, like an Alexander the Great, weeping when he realized he had no more worlds to conquer?

No, its because the circles that control the United States act in the interest of the giant corporations that know only one rule for life: the maximization of profits. Either they expand, or they die, overtaken by ever more ruthless economic rivals. And to expand their economic empires, they must maintain and control a military one.

To control the wealth of the world, they must control the world itself.

This is what we are up against – all of us — the working people and the poor of the United States, as well as all the peoples of the world. Changing presidents, as sweet as that prospect seems, will not change the basic equation: as long as the U.S. economic system is based on putting profits before people, people will suffer – from poverty to racism to wars to global warming.

Why are we going to Iran?

Because we believe that the cause of peace and justice, freedom and equality is in danger today as it has never been before. And because we believe we have a limited amount of time to do something about it.

We have marched and rallied, written letters and petitioned, committed acts of civil disobedience and gone to jail. All of this has been helpful, but we want to do more.

By openly traveling to a country that the U.S. State Department tells us is dangerous and hostile, we hope in some small way to break through the false barrier of propaganda, lies and deceit.

We want to meet with the Iranian people on their own soil, in their own cities and towns and rural areas. We want to express to them our desire for peace and friendship, and come back better prepared to explain what we have seen and heard.

We want to tell the truth about the people of Iran – and about the lies of the U.S. government.

We want to take a stand.


From the front page of
The Richmond Defender
Vol. II, Issue VI
 
 

Funding crisis threatens Southside childcare center

 

By Ana Edwards

 

For more than 75 years, Southside Child Development Center has been a respected and valued Richmond institution.

 

Each year the school, located at 1420 McDonough St. just off Cowardin Avenue, provides high quality, sliding-scale, preschool care and education for 85 children. Each June it graduates a class of more than 30 children prepared to enter “big school.” 

 

Some of today’s students are the children and grandchildren of Richmonders who once attended the school. 

 

The quality of Southside’s programs, teachers, support staff and executive director are outstanding. The school’s outcomes are excellent.

 

According to assessment reports by the United Way of Greater Richmond and Petersburg, the center meets all indicators for providing children the self-confidence and skills necessary to become kindergarten-ready. The center is very close to achieving national accreditation. It has a waiting list of more than 30 names. 

 

But because of a lack of funding, this beloved and effective childcare center is in imminent danger of being forced to close its doors.

 

Originally known as the Southside Day Nursery, the school opened on Oct. 15, 1930, with a budget of just $1,000.

 

But the school’s founders were dedicated to providing quality, affordable childcare for the working poor, and they worked as though the school would be operating long after they were gone.

 

They were right. Subsequent boards of directors and staff maintained a belief that safe, quality care for the children of working parents was an important community goal.

 

In 1935, the center became a partner agency of the Community Chest, later renamed the United Givers Fund and now known as the  United Way of Greater Richmond and Petersburg. 

 

Southside’s executive director, Sheila Pleasants, has been with the center in various roles for more than 11 years, the last two as its director. A pastor’s wife and mother of two teenaged boys, she is grounded in her devotion to the center’s mission and loves and protects and believes in the children as if they were her own. 

 

“If you come to the center and see the children, you’ll understand, Pleasants told the Defender. “They are happy and independent and smart. All they need is what every child should have — a decent start. And they get that here. At this center they get the best.”

 

This is the institution that, because of an accumulation of funding problems, may be forced to close its doors, perhaps as soon as this summer.

 

For more than 60 years, the United Way funded nearly 40 percent of the center’s operating budget. That funding level remained stable until 1995, the year a former president of the United Way of America was convicted of defrauding the organization of hundreds of thousands of dollars. 

 

According to an Oct. 17, 2002, article in The Chronicle of Philanthropy newspaper, “His actions left the public’s confidence in nonprofit groups badly shaken and local United Ways struggling to overcome his legacy.”

 

Contributions to United Ways across the country plummeted, with a resulting negative impact on local programs. 

 

Scandals aside, fund raising in general has become more difficult for nonprofits over the last seven to eight years. Southside has also suffered from this decline.

 

Recent efforts to find alternative grants and funding sources have had limited success. As a result, the school has had to use up reserves already reduced by the economic downturn of 2001. 

 

In addition, the board itself has suffered a loss of membership, leaving va-cancies in the areas of fund development and long-term planning.  

 

Last summer, it became clear that unless significant funding is secured, Southside faces the very real possibility of closing by the end of this year. 

 

The center owns the building that houses its preschool program. In 2002 it purchased and renovated the property next door in order to provide before- and after-school programs for its graduates and the older siblings of its preschool students.

 

The center’s board has been reluctantly discussing selling the next-door property. So far, it has found few interested parties.

 

Last fall, the board applied for a loan from the city’s Industrial Development Authority, the agency charged with helping community development projects through low-interest loans. The IDA recommended a combination loan package from both itself and the Richmond Economic Development Council (REDC). 

 

That $170,000 package would have enabled the center to pay off its past debts and the mortgage on the adjacent property, as well as strengthen its monthly cash flow.

 

All the signs were encouraging. In fact, the center received a $10,000 good-faith advance on the loan. 

 

Meanwhile, Southside was taking steps to strengthen both its own fund raising and its programs. Its plan included building partnerships with agencies serving similar populations; recruiting board members with professional and civic focuses on early childhood development; creating signature fund-raising and public awareness events; and enlisting the services of a fund development professional. 

 

With its financial situation looking up, the center was also planning to add a bilingual teacher in order to reach out to the growing Latino community in the Southside/Jefferson Davis Highway corridor. It wanted to expand the number of Head Start classrooms from one to two, as well as continue to provide professional development for its teachers and staff.

 

Then disaster struck. 

 

First the process of receiving the IDA/REDC loan seemed to stall over paperwork issues. Then, while those issues were being addressed, Mayor L. Douglas Wilder called the IDA’s bookkeeping into question.

 

This spring, the IDA was shut down, pending an investigation and reorganization. Most of its staff members were fired. The loan applications process was stopped.  

 

For Southside, the timing could not have been worse. It’s now summer, when the school’s income is at its lowest. Reserves are already depleted and cash flow has stalled. 

The center’s future looks bleak indeed.

 

What will happen if Southside has to close? Imagine the challenge of finding affordable childcare for 85 children of low-income parents. Imagine how many Southside parents will lose their jobs because they no longer have safe and affordable childcare. The lives of all these families will be severely and negatively impacted.

 

There are so few income-based childcare centers in Richmond. Can our city afford to let such a good one slip away?

 

Truly, Southside needs a hero.

 

And time is running out for the rescue. 

 

 

Ana Edwards, a founding member of the Defenders, is the mother of a Southside graduate. She has been a member of the school’s board of directors since 2001.

 

[sidebar:] 

 

*  23% of Virginia’s children under the age of four are considered at-risk. 

*  75% of parents of preschool-age children work outside the home, making quality child

care essential. 

*  For every $1 spent on early care and education, there’s an estimated return of $7 to $9.

*  In Virginia, only 9.6 cents of every education dollar is invested in a preschool-aged

child (three to five years old). Only 4.3 cents is invested in an infant or toddler (birth to

2). 

 

Source:

www.grcc.com/page/name/sb6_home website of Greater Richmond Chamber, “Success by 6” program page

 

———————————————

 

 

RPD recruits its first majority-Black officer class

 

By Phil Wilayto

 

For apparently the first time in its history, the Richmond Police Department has recruited a class of future police officers that is majority-Black.

 

Of the 17 members of the department’s 96th Recruit Class, nine are African-Americans. That’s 52.9 percent of the total number of recruits.

 

According to RPD spokeswoman Kirsten Nelson, this is at least the first time “in recent history” that the majority of recruits in a Richmond police officer class has come from the Black community. Racial breakdowns of earlier classes were not kept by the department, she said.

 

The 96th Recruit Class also has two Latinos, bringing the percentage of recruits from communities of color up to 63.7 percent — nearly two-thirds of the total number.

 

The recruits began their training in April of this year. Graduation is scheduled for Oct. 13.

At present, the demographics of the Richmond Police Department lag far behind that of the city as a whole.

 

According to the 2000 U.S. Census, Richmond’s population of 197,790 residents was 57.2 percent African-American, 38.3 percent white, 2.6 percent Latino, 1.2 percent Asian, .2 percent American Indian and .5 percent “other” or more than one race.

 

Of the RPD’s 708 sworn officers, 67.4 percent are white, 28.4 percent are Black, 1.8 percent are Latino, .4 percent are Asian, . 2 percent are American Indian and 1.8 percent are classified as “other.”

 

The 96th Recruit Class represents an improvement over the previous class, which began its training in January. That class of 20 recruits includes 13 whites (65 percent), six Blacks (30 percent) and one Asian (5 percent). There are no Latinos in this class.

 

The class before that, the 94th, had 21 recruits. Twelve were white (57.1 percent), eight were Black (38 percent) and one was Asian (4.8 percent). This class also had no Latinos, who are a rapidly growing part of the city’s population. The 94th was sworn in on April 12. Recruits must now complete field training, after which they will be considered full-fledged police officers.

 

Figures were not available for the 97th Recruit Class, which is scheduled to begin its training on July 24.

 

While the most recent figures show improvement in the area of race, the number of women officers continues to lag behind the city’s demographics. According to the 2000 census, women made up 53.5 percent of Richmond’s population.

 

At present, the RPD’s sworn officers are 86 percent male. The 96th Recruit class is 88.2 percent male. The 95th is 85 percent, while the 94th was 81 percent.

 

RPD spokeswoman Kirsten Nelson says the recent rise in the numbers of Black recruits is the result of conscious policy.

 

“There have been initiatives to recruit minorities specifically,” Nelson told the Defender in a telephone interview. “That is not to say we won’t take anyone who will be a good police officer and meets the criteria. However, we want our police force to reflect the population, so we actively recruit minorities.”

 

Nelson said recruiting has included contacting colleges and schools with majority people of color student bodies. “We make it clear that we are encouraging minorities to apply and if they meet the criteria, we’d love to have them,” she said.

 

Nelson noted that pay for Richmond police officers has also increased since Chief Rodney Monroe was appointed to head the department.

 

Figures for the racial and gender breakdown of the RPD’s present sworn force and recruit classes were provided by Karla E. Peters of the department’s Public Affairs Unit. Any errors in percentages are the responsibility of the Defender.

 

———————————————

 

Community speaks out at public hearing, says plan for school closings lacks details

 

By Ana Edwards

 

The mayor’s office is moving ahead with its City of the Future plan, including the restructuring of the entire public school system, and people are raising questions about the process. 

 

“Where is the school system headed?” asked Francine Barnes, the parent of a rising sophomore at Open High School, “We need for the School Board and the city council and the mayor to give us the details, to tell us what our system will look like.”

 

Barnes was one of nearly 80 people who attended the Richmond School Board’s public hearing held July 6 at John Marshall High School on Old Brook Road on North Side.

 

More than two dozen individuals — public school students, parents, educators, professionals and residents — presented prepared and spontaneous comments, nearly half of which focused on the lack of concrete information currently available to help residents make informed decisions about the proposed changes.

 

Others voiced concern about the proposed closing of Open High in the Oregon Hill neighborhood or support for the proposed new school in Fulton Hill and its Montessori curriculum, the first such application in a Richmond public school.

 

According to the material handed out at the hearing, a total of 20 schools are being considered for permanent closure.

 

These include 15 elementary schools: Bellemeade, Bellevue, Chimborazo, Fairfield, Francis, George Mason, Greene, Maymont, Norrell, Overby Sheppard, REAL, Stuart, Summer Hill, Swansboro and Woodville.

 

Two middle schools would be closed: Binford and Thirteen Acres.

 

The proposed list also names three high schools: Huguenot, Open and Richmond Community.

 

But no timeline has been established, either for closings, renovations or new construction.

 

School Board President David Ballard admitted he had no answers for most of the questions raised in the hearing. He also stated that he anticipated a positive response to the board’s request of the mayor for an extension to the July 31 deadline for producing the final list of schools to be closed, so that more public hearings can be held.

 

Councilwoman Ellen Robertson of the 6th District was the final speaker. Acknowledging the “awesome decisions” the School Board faces, Ms. Robertson stated that the decisions the board members make “will literally determine and shape the composite complexity of our community for years to come.” 

 

In a July 6 press release, Mayor L. Douglas Wilder made it clear that he would “await the final actions undertaken by the School Board on school closings before taking any action regarding the ‘City of the Future’ plan to build any schools.” 

 

On the face of it that seems logical.

 

The problem is that once the School Board decides which schools will be closed and turns that list over to the mayor, it also turns over control of the process.

 

The School Board itself doesn’t have money to build schools. That money has to be appropriated after negotiations with the city. And the money envisioned in the mayor’s City of the Future plan is dependant on as-yet-untried tax initiatives.

 

Another problem is the political views of the people who crafted the City of the Future plan.

Former mayoral advisor and longtime Wilder strategist Paul Goldman claims that he was a key author of the plan. Goldman is a strong proponent of the privitization of public services. Apply that philosophy to public schools and you have a voucher program.

 

Mayor Wilder has already actively promoted charter schools. He successfully lobbied the U.S. Department of Education to provide funding for three charter schools in Virginia, one of which is to be located in Richmond. Then, according to the chief administrator of the private Park Place School in Norfolk, he personally urged that school’s administration to apply to open a charter school in Richmond.

 

The Park Place School has close ties to Pat Robertson’s ultra-conservative Regent University in Virginia Beach.

 

One more hint about the mayor’s proposed City of the Future: he has already made it clear that tuition will be required to attend two new high schools to be constructed in the city.

 

The second School Board hearing on the proposed school closings is scheduled for 6:00 p.m. Thursday, July 13, at Huguenot High School on Forest Hill Avenue.

 

———————————————

 

 

The Very Useful Lawsuit: A Richmond Fairy Tale

 

By Phil Wilayto

 

Once upon a time there was a sheriff by the name of Michelle B. Mitchell, who filed a Very Useful Lawsuit against the City of Richmond.

 

The sheriff said she was deeply troub-led by the terrible conditions in the Richmond City Jail. The jail was old. It was overcrowded. The roof leaked, the furnace broke down and the toilets backed up.

 

The sheriff, who received more than $100,000 a year to manage the jail, said she wanted the city to repair, expand or replace it.

 

Sheriff Mitchell filed her lawsuit way back in September  2001. That was less than two months before the next city election. Sheriff Mitchell was running for re-election.

 

The lawsuit received media attention and Sheriff Mitchell was re-elected.

 

Then everybody forgot about the lawsuit.

 

Mostly.

 

About a year later, the sheriff withdrew her lawsuit. She said she wanted to pursue negotiations with the city.

 

Then, in the spring of 2003, she told reporters that negotiations had broken down and she had instructed her attorneys to refile the suit. 

 

But no court date was ever set.

 

And yet, the lawsuit was not without its usefulness. Whenever anyone criticized Sheriff Mitchell for the way she ran the jail — and many, many people criticized her — the sheriff would refer to her lawsuit. It’s not my fault, she would say, I tried to get the city to fix up this mess, but they just won’t do it.

 

Other elected officials also found the lawsuit very helpful.

 

Back in 2003, 7th District Council-woman Delores L. McQuinn told the Defenders For Freedom, Justice & Equality that she couldn’t pursue a community inspection of conditions in the jail because that issue was the subject of litigation.  

 

That same year, state Sen. Henry L. Marsh III (D-Richmond) told this reporter that the lawsuit would personally make him hesitant to get involved in the jail issue. 

 

What a useful lawsuit.

 

Then came the November 2005 sheriff’s election. 

 

As that election approached, Sheriff Mitchell started showing renewed interest in her lawsuit. In July of that year, the Defender called one of her attorneys, John A. Gibney, Jr. Mr. Gibney said the case  was “still pending.” Asked about the delay, he said, “I would imagine that the city has some scheduling issues.”

 

So the Defender asked Assistant City Attorney William Hoppe Sr. about the case. Mr. Hoppe said he was “one of the people assigned to the case,” but declined to comment on any scheduling issues. “The case is in litigation and I really can’t discuss it,” he said. 

 

So then the Defender called the Richmond Civil Court. An employee who gave her name only as Theresa said there would be no record if either side were trying to get a court date.

“They would work it out between themselves and then contact the court,” she said. 

 

Evidently, the two sides couldn’t work anything out, because the lawsuit never went to court.

 

But that didn’t mean the lawsuit had lost its usefulness.

 

After all, the city didn’t have to do anything about the jail, and the sheriff got some more publicity, just before the election.

 

Even so, Sheriff Mitchell lost the election. That happens sometimes, even in fairy tales.

Now there’s a new sheriff. His name is C.T. Woody. Just like Sheriff Mitchell, Sheriff Woody is faced with an aging, rundown, overcrowded jail.

 

But this new sheriff actually talks to the city and to the public.

 

Sheriff Woody even talks to reporters.

 

Apparently the old lawsuit isn’t as useful to him as it was to other politicians. 

 

So last month the lawsuit was “nonsuited” by the Richmond City Court.

 

That’s a fancy legal term that, according to Black’s Law Dictionary, 6th Edition, refers to the termination of a legal action when the plaintiff “is unable to prove a case, or when he refuses or neglects to proceed to trial and leaves the issue undetermined.” 

 

To celebrate the nonsuiting, the city’s mayor issued a statement, as he often does. 

 

The mayor credited the new sheriff’s leadership as a major factor that led to the eventual dissolution of the lawsuit. 

 

The mayor also credited himself, as he also often does.

 

“It’s been good to be able to work with Sheriff Woody prior to his taking office and begin to collaboratively address the serious issues at the City Jail,” the mayor said.

 

“We assumed responsibility for fixing the locks to the jail and have discussed the possibility of further improvements, none of which would be helped by a lawsuit that could have complicated matters.” 

 

And so the lawsuit died, its usefulness finally over.

 

The moral of this story is that endlessly inconclusive lawsuits can sometimes be very useful things --- but only up to a point. 

 

Eventually, you actually have to do something.

 

———————————————

From The Richmond Defender

Vol. 3, No 2 (Issue 20)

March - April 2007

 

Defenders & VAWN call for a People’s Peace Delegation to Iran!

We’re going to Iran. And here’s why.

It looks like the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan aren’t enough for President George W. Bush and his neocon policy advisers. Now the White House – and the Pentagon – are turning their attention to Iran.

In mid-February, a U.S aircraft carrier group, led by the USS John C. Stennis, was deployed into Mideast waters, doubling the U.S. presence in the Persian Gulf. The Stennis, with its strike force of cruisers, destroyers and submarines, joins the USS Dwight D. Eisenhower, which has already engaged in military action against Somalia.

In addition to the military buildup, Bush and company have launched a steady stream of barely veiled threats, crafted to fit a variety of situations.

The charge that Iran is supplying weapons to Iraqi resistance fighters?

“When we find devices that are in [Iraq] that are hurting our troops,” says President Bush, “we’re going to do something about it, pure and simple.” ( Reuters, Feb. 14, 2007)

Iranian ambitions to become – like the U.S, Britain and Israel – a nuclear power?

“All options are still on the table,” says Vice President Dick Cheney. (Associated Press, Feb. 25, 2007)

And it’s not just the Republicans.

“We cannot, we should not, we must not permit Iran to build or acquire nuclear weapons,’’ Sen. Hillary Clinton, the leading contender for the Democratic presidential nomination, told a crowd of Israel supporters. “In dealing with this threat ... no option can be taken off the table.’’ (Associated Press, Feb. 1, 2007)

And Clinton’s main Democratic opponent, Sen. Barack Obama of Illinois, is on record as saying that the United States should not rule out military strikes to destroy nuclear production sites in Iran. (Chicago Daily Tribune, Sept. 25, 2004)

Bush and his buddies lied to us about “weapons of mass destruction” in Iraq. They lied about nuclear weapons and Saddam’s Hussein’s supposed ties to the Al-Queda network.

Now we’re supposed to believe they would tell us the truth about a threat from Iran – a country with two things that Iraq also had – lots of oil, and a government that won’t bow down to Washington.

We’re not buying it.

The people of this country have lost more than 3,200 fathers and mothers, sisters and brothers, daughters and sons, friends and neighbors in the immoral, illegal and criminal U.S. war against Iraq.

The people of Iraq have lost hundreds of thousands.

This war is costing one billion dollars a day – a day!

More than a year after Katrina, much of New Orleans is still devastated.

Bush’s new proposed federal budget would reduce spending on Head Start, social service block grants, energy assistance, Medicaid and housing programs.

Since Bush ordered the troops to invade Iraq on March 19, 2003, the war has cost Virginia taxpayers more than $11 billion. Richmond’s share was nearly $206 million – that’s $50 million a year for each year of the war.

We can’t afford this war.

And we sure can’t afford a new one.

We have marched and rallied, written articles and signed petitions, donated money and cast our votes.

Now we want to do something more.

We’re going to Iran.

The Richmond Defender newspaper and the Virginia Anti-War Network are proposing a “People’s Peace Delegation to Iran.”

We want to tell the Iranian people – in person – that we want peace and friendship with their country, that we don’t consider them to be our enemy and that we will do everything in our power to try and prevent a new war.

By making this journey, we hope, in some small way, to help counter the attempts by Bush, Cheney, Rice and the whole White House crew to demonize the Iranian people.

We hope to demonstrate the possibility of peace between our peoples.

And we plan to come back prepared to share what we have learned about that ancient and complex society, in hopes of convincing others that war can be prevented – if the people intervene.

You can read more about our proposal on this page, along with ideas about how you can support this effort.

We’re not professional diplomats, or geopolitical analysts, or rich or powerful people.But we are people committed to struggling for a world free from hunger, fear, racism, war and poverty.

And we are not going to stand by and watch Bush and his buddies destroy that dream.



A coalition of 20 labor, community Virginia Contingent to raise Somalia, Iran & Gulf Coast at March on the Pentagon

Staff Report

A coalition of 20 labor, community and anti-war organizations from across Virginia is organizing a statewide contingent for the national March on the Pentagon scheduled for March 17.

The Virginia Anti-War Network (VAWN), is calling on all progressives in the state to join in a contingent raising these demands:

“U.S. Out of Iraq & Afghanistan NOW!”

“Stop the Attacks on Somalia!”

“No War or Sanctions Against Iran!”

“Money for the Gulf Coast, not for War!”

Ann Williams, a VAWN organizer in Norfolk, said participants in the contingent will gather in Washington, D.C., at 11:30 a.m. at 20th Street and Constitution Avenue, then march the three blocks to 23rd and Constitution, where the march to the Pentagon is scheduled to start at noon.

“As the U.S. War Machine grinds on relentlessly, spewing blood and venom globally, we will not rest until our troops are home from this illegal, immoral, obscene occupation of Iraq and Afghanistan,” Williams told the Defender. “Our disenfranchised, struggling brothers, sisters and homeless veterans in New Orleans, along the Gulf Coast, in Richmond’s Battery Park and in the inner cities of this country will not rest until their dignity is restored.”

As of March 11, buses were being organized from Augusta County, Blacksburg, Charlottesville, Norfolk and Richmond. The Blacksburg bus will also be making stops in Christiansburg and Roanoke. (For the latest information, log onto www.vawn.org.)

Williams explained the historical significance of the March 17 protest, which is being sponsored by the anti-war coalition International A.N.S.W.E.R. (Act Now to Stop War & End Racism).

“In 1967, the Pentagon was surrounded by thousands of Americans demanding an end to the Vietnam travesty,” Williams said. “This proved to be a ‘tipping point’ in convincing most Americans of the urgent necessity of ending the war. Forty years later, here we go again, with Iraq.”

The March on the Pentagon is one of three major initiatives now taking place to end the war, Williams explained.

“First, starting March 12, the Troops Out Now Coalition is organizing a massive encampment off 3rd Street on the western side of the U.S. Capitol. TONC is calling on people to help maintain this encampment indefinitely until Congress votes to stop funding the war. Imagine, committed people camping in the shadow of Capitol Hill. It worked at Camp Casey!

“Second, on March 17, International ANSWER will sponsor the March on the Pentagon,” Williams said. “Many people have never participated in a national march of this magnitude before. Active-duty soldiers, some who have been stationed in Iraq, their families and veterans will form the front contingent. Additionally, many students, seniors, labor, faith, social justice and community groups will be present with a united front.”

Among those scheduled to speak at the steps of the Pentagon is VAWN member Jonathan Hutto Sr., a co-founder of Appeal for Redress, the online GI anti-war petition. Hutto is also scheduled to speak in Richmond on March 20.

“The third component is the occupation of Congressional offices sponsored by the D.C.-based Voices for Creative Non-Violence,” Williams said. “On March 19, activists will pay a visit via sustained, peaceful civil disobedience to senators and representatives who refuse to pledge to vote against additional war funding and who intend to ‘surge’ the troops rather than withdraw them.”

Another major anti-war coalition, United for Peace and Justice, initially called on activists to hold local activities on March 17, in effect calling for a boycott of the March on the Pentagon. Under pressure from others in the anti-war movement, UFPJ is now suggesting that its members support the Pentagon action, while holding local actions before and after March 17.

VAWN was founded in January 2005 around the principle of respect for the right to self-determination of all oppressed peoples. For more information, log onto www.vawn.org.

 

Shop Talk: Where the community finds its voice; barber shop crowd takes on issues of the city

[Editor’s Note: Antonz Barber & Beauty Salon, across from the Patrick Henry School on Semmes Avenue, is Old School. There are no trendy exposed bricks here, no pathos plants or chrome counters.

Instead, all four walls of the 16-x-26-foot shop are covered with momentos of Black history and culture.

There’s a display of photos of the Negro Baseball Leagues and rows of old album covers, from the soundtrack to Shaft to Curtis Mayfield to Diana Ross and L.L. Cool J.

There’s a collage of photos from the Civil Rights Movement: protesters on a picket line; a young and earnest Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.; 1968 Olympic medalists John Carlos and Tommie Smith giving the Black Power salute during their awards ceremony in Mexico City.

And a large poster of Malcolm X.

TVs are positioned at the four corners of the shop, each tuned to a different station. One covers hip-hop videos, another the financial news from the New York Stock Exchange. The sound is turned low so as not to compete with the steady beat coming from the CD player.

Tonight there are about two dozen people in the shop. Four are getting haircuts or waiting their turns, a few came in specifically for what Anton, the shop’s owner, has been promoting as a free-wheeling Community Discussion.

In other words, it’s a typical Friday night in a Richmond barber shop.]

The speakers are:

Anton Cofield (AC), 36, the shop’s owner, who moderates the discussion

William Stewart (WS), 46, who runs an online travel agency

Brenda Riddick (BR), 52, a self -employed vender

Wayne Person (WP), 40, a barber employed at Antonz

And a man who left the shop before we could get his name, whom we’ll call CD.]

.....

AC - I’m worried about what’s going to happen to the school, Patrick Henry.

WS - It’ll become a loft.

AC - The mayor’s trying to fix up this area, but it’s driving the people out who live here. They had a meeting at the Civic Center and they said we had 15 days to fix violations.

WS - This is a nice area.

AC - Hull Street. They let it go, for 15 years. On purpose. Now ...

BR - Most people are not making the wages to afford these homes. The police who serve and protect can’t afford to live in the city. They’re confident about building $200,000, $250,000 houses, but where are the poor people supposed to go? Most are unemployed, and unskilled. Where are people going to live?

WS - How many people vote?

BR - But what about the people who can’t vote? If you have a felony – all these people in jail.

WS - Well, we know what the jails are — a moneymaker. But those who can vote, do they?

BR - Take a single mother on welfare. If she’s making $5.15 an hour, how are you going to afford a place to live??

WS - Well, who’s fault is that? That they didn’t stay in school?

AC - That’s why people have to watch out for birth control, and don’t have kids.

WS - But what about the people who are here?

BR - You have people in public housing. What are they to do? Half of the kids don’t even have a father. Then the mother has to be a mother and a father. It begins at home, but I know a child 12 years old who’s having a baby. What is she going to teach her child?

WS - I have a friend in New York. A single mother, went out and got every grant out there, now she has a master’s and her son is an attorney. If these kids can play Play Stations at two or four, they can use to learn a computer. At the library.

AC - But that kid can’t drive to the library. It’s the parents’ fault.

WS - And where are the politicians?

AC - They take care of the people who write their checks. So we got to start writing some checks.

WP - They’ve got to stop paying the rappers and the entertainers and start paying the teachers. They’ve got to give back to the community. If you get a million-dollar contract, are you going to build a basketball court in the community?

BR - Look at New Orleans. They knew it was coming, they told the people to leave. But I don’t have 50 cents in my pocket. So where am I going? I saw a women the other day, hauling two kids. She had some kind of look about her and I said, “Where you from?” She said, “New Orleans.” She was hungry. These people are scattered all over the country.

WS - Some contribute. Haynes, Ukrop’s is number one.

BR - But how much of that money gets back into the community?

WS - They want to get in there and fire custodians, but what about all those assistant principals sitting up in those offices. Do they need all of them? An assistant principal and an assistant principal and an assistant principal ...

AC - And the children failing.

WP - But as a parent you ought to see that ...

BR - But the schools are overcrowded.

AC - If the schools aren’t looking out for the children, then the churches have to. We have to do like the Catholics — have a church and right next to it there’s a school..

WS - So you’re for charter schools?

AC The Muslims had it. If the prison rate is higher than the graduation rate ... Now you got churches with a mall in the church. It’s a business, not a church.

WS - But they give back.

BR - You got people up there with a thousand-dollar suit, a two thousand-dollar suit, and some people don’t have no suit.

WS - But we can’t go blaming people. What are we going to do?

AC You got to talk with your kids.

WS - But if the TV is going and the radio is going and the computer is going ...

BR - Where’s the money going?

WS - If your home is in a high-crime area, the insurance rate is higher. But you can’t blame them. But how do we look at the community as a whole? What are you doing to bring the crime rate down?

CD - If they turn [Patrick Henry] into a condo, the taxes will go up for the whole neighborhood.

AC - I hope it stays a school. And it’s all Black kids over there. If it’s 50-50, they have a better chance. Politics is a business. No bread, no change, If you have no money, I’m not interested in your problem.

BR - It’s the old saying, the rich get richer and the poor get poorer.

WS - Two billion people in the world live on less than $2 a day. We make more than that if you’re out there renting rims for a rental place. I don’t knock you if you want to look good, but ...

BR - You ever been to that big flea market over on Midlothian? Kids buy those tennis shoes. Got to have ‘em. It’s a money market.

WS - So it’s low self-esteem, and peer pressure. They see that on TV, so you got to sit down and talk with them.

AC - [Referring to the TV set covering the stock market.] We got to have power, like that guy, Bernanke, Greenspan, Warren Buffett. * Those are the presidents. Anytime anyone can make one statement and the stock market drops, that’s the man you got to watch. Bernanke’s in China, he says one statement and China’s stock market drops 400 points. That’s power.

WS - Who is the true American now? Nobody. Everybody’s mixed. The KKK is fighting against immigration and half the immigrants are European. They’re so dumb it’s a shame,

CD - They don’t teach finance in the schools.

WS - You got to start with your kids when they’re little. Teach them about writing checks, learning credit.

AC - The parents --- we got to stop talking about the same dumb shit. Forget politics, forget religion. If you haven’t got money, it doesn’t matter. If you get a lot of people to get together and give a Congressman a lot of money, then you’ll see something done. We are the sons of the generation of the ‘70s. It’s like in that movie, “Bastards of the Party.” “Super Fly” messed up our whole society. We went from “us” to “me.” Then “Scarface” in the ‘80s. It made the younger generation ... I was watching it. Until then, I didn’t know all that stuff.

WS - The work ethic. This man [Anton] works till midnight some nights, and the kids see that.

AC - That’s why I do it.

CD - They cleaned it up in Richmond. You can’t stop crime and drugs, but they slowed it down.

AC - That’s so VCU can get all those new students to move to Richmond.

CD - But your downtown --- I’ve never seen a downtown like Richmond. You come into a city, you’re supposed to see things --- stores, not a burned-out area. That’s your first impression.

BR - We need something downtown.

WS - You got a jail, a courthouse.

CD - You know what that’s for — all these young men.

BR - We need shopping areas. But it’s so expensive. That woman who ran the thrift store for years — Pennies for Heaven. But she had to move. It’s too expensive. And where are all the jobs?

WS - McDonald’s.


* Dr. Ben S. Bernanke replaced Alan Greenspan as chairman of the Federal Reserve System. Warren Buffett, the second richest person in the world, is considered an expert on predicting stock market trends.





From The Richmond Defender

Vol. 3, No. 1

January - February 2007

 

 

It’s 2007:  Time to tell the truth about  Robert E. Lee

 

Robert Edward Lee --- the Virginian who owned and exploited Black people; helped steal half of Mexico during the U.S.-Mexican War; led the attack on abolitionist hero John Brown at Harper’s Ferry; deserted the Union Army; took up arms against the country he had sworn to defend in order to preserve the immensely profitable system of chattel slavery; and lost the Civil War by getting his reactionary butt decisively kicked by a force that included 200,000 armed people of African descent --- was born on Jan. 19, 1807, in Stratford, Va.

 

That means that 2007 marks the 200th anniversary of Lee’s birth. And that means that Virginia can expect to see a wide assortment of neo-Confederate yahoos coming out to march around Lee statues, practice the Rebel Yell and wave the Battle Flag of the Army of Northern Virginia, while piously insisting that they are simply celebrating “heritage, not hate.”

 

But what is more disturbing and outrageous is that the state government of Virginia is using our hard-earned tax dollars to promote the myth that Lee was some kind of hero, a saintly role model for all Virginians – including our school children.

 

This sick official campaign is being promoted by both Democrats and Republicans. It involves elected politicians as well as the appointed heads of government departments.

 

And it has been proceeding – till now – with little or no opposition.

 

In this issue of The Richmond Defender we take a look at the real Robert E. Lee. We expose his state-funded promotion. And we examine why the “Lee-as Hero” myth has been – and still is – so useful to the rich and powerful.

 

And, because this is the Defender, we will do more than just investigate, analyze and report.

 

We are also working with civil rights, anti-war and other progressive forces to oppose this official reactionary, pro-Lee, pro-Confederate, pro-white-supremacist campaign. Stay tuned.

 

 

 

Virginia’s government takes on ‘coordinating’ the Lee celebrations

 

Virginia’s government is not at all embarrassed that one of the state’s most famous sons led a war to defend slavery.

 

Far from it. In fact, the state – headed  for the past five years by Democratic governors — has been in the forefront of promoting Lee as a hero.

 

In 2005, the Virginia General Assembly established a joint subcommittee called the “Lee Memorial Commission of the Commonwealth.” The mission, according to a commission press release, was “to plan and coordinate the celebration of Robert E. Lee’s 200th birthday.”

 

Co-chaired by Delegate Benjamin L. Cline and Sen. Emmett W. Hanger Jr., Republicans from the 24th District, this official state commission also includes representatives from the Virginia divisions of the Sons of Confederate Veterans and United Daughters of the Confederacy.

 

Also represented are the Department of Historic Resources and the Virginia Tourism Corporation, as well as the state Superintendent of Public Instruction.

 

The Superintendent of Public Instruction is Billy K. Cannaday Jr., who, as head of Chesterfield Public Schools, provoked a community uproar by using the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday as a snow day.

 

The inclusion of the state’s top education official in the Lee commission is particularly disturbing.

 

According the commission’s press release, the committee is planning educational initiatives which “might” include a “teachers institute at the Museum of the Confederacy” and essay or poster contests.

 

Plus, “efforts to develop curriculum materials that focus on history, civics, and leadership that could be incorporated into the Standards of Learning ....”

 

Studying Lee as “hero” in order to pass the SOL tests – life just gets grimmer and grimmer for Virginia’s schoolchildren.

 

Commission spokeswoman Lisa Wallmeyer told the Defender that the commission had received a grant from the state’s tourism department to produce a brochure and Web site listing the various Lee birthday celebrations around the state.

 

Wallmeyer said the commission had not received state funding to promote its own events.

 

“Our main role is coordination,” she said.

 

The brochure, available at www.rlee2007.com, doesn’t even pretend to be objective:

 

“Many words have been used to describe Robert E. Lee,” the brochure states, “soldier, unifier, educator, leader, gentleman, father, husband, man of faith, honor driven – but none characterize him better than as one of Virginia’s finest sons.”

 

Your tax dollars at work.

 

Tax dollars have also been spent in other ways to promote the “Heroic Lee” myth.

 

Richmond has literally dozens of buildings, bridges and organizations named for the commander of the Confederate Army, but none are as prominent as the Robert E. Lee Monument (its official name) on Monument Avenue.

 

That broad boulevard also includes statues of other Confederate figures, such as J.E.B. Stewart, “Stonewall” Jackson and Jefferson Davis, but the Lee statue is the only one actually owned by the state government – specifically, by the Department of General Services.

 

And the state has been a worthy steward.

 

Last year, the Department of General Services shelled out some $450,000 to clean up the statue in preparation for 200th Lee birthday celebrations.

 

And last fall, the state’s Department of Historic Resources added the statue to the official Virginia Landmarks Register, also in preparation for Lee’s birthday.

 

That process included an application from General Services to the National Park Service of the U.S. Department of the Interior. The GS application included this description of the statue’s historical significance:

 

“Placement of the statue was intended to perpetuate the memory of Lee’s character as a man of heroic action, as well as to herald the emergence of a New South from the adversity of defeat and Reconstruction.”

 

In other words, the Lee statue on Monument Avenue, owned, maintained and promoted by the state of Virginia, was intended to celebrate the political re-emergence of the state’s white oligarchy after the brief period of post-Civil War Black freedom.

 

Happy birthday?

 

 

 

How the ‘Lost Cause’ cult serves the rich & powerful

 

To understand why rich and powerful people still promote the cult of the Confederacy, you have to understand just how useful that mythology has been to them over the years.

 

The Civil War took a great economic toll on the South. Richmond, an industrial center, seemed on the road to recovery when the country was hit by a great economic downturn, the Panic of 1873. Poor and working people, of course, felt the greatest blows, and began to fight back.

 

Historian Howard Zinn describes this period in his book “A People’s History of the United States”:

 

“The year 1886 became known to contemporaries as ‘the year of the great uprising of labor.’ From 1881 to 1885, strikes had averaged about 500 each year, involving perhaps 150,000 workers each year. In 1886 there were over 1,400 strikes, involving 500,000 workers.”

 

There was the great railroad strike of 1877 and mass struggles for the eight-hour day. Across New York and New England, women textile workers were walking out of factories, demanding the recognition of their unions. All these developments were responses to an economic system that was bringing great riches to a few but mass misery to many.

 

Labor rebellions were also affecting the fundamental source of white Southern wealth and power – the super-exploitation of Black workers. In 1887, close to 10,000 Black Southern sugar workers went on strike, demanding a dollar a day instead of the worthless company script they were given as wages.

 

The great fear of the Southern plantation and factory owners was that Black and white workers might unite and challenge their employers together. That fear was deepened by an event that took place in Richmond.

 

The Knights of Labor, launched in 1869, was developing as one of the country’s most powerful labor organizations – and it was organizing workers regardless of race or gender. By the mid-1880s it had chapters in Richmond.

 

In 1886, the Knights decided to hold their 10th annual convention here in the “Holy City of the Lost Cause.” The results were nearly explosive.

 

When a Black delegate, Frank J. Ferrell of New York City, was denied lodging in a local hotel, the entire New York Knights delegation moved out to another hotel.

 

When that same delegation, including Ferrell, attended a public play together, the rest of the audience walked out. The next night an armed mob gathered outside the theater to prevent a repeat performance by the Knights.

 

In an act of racial solidarity, Ferrell was chosen to introduce the Knight’s leader, Grand Master Workman Terence V. Powderly, to the convention. According to Powderly’s autobiography, that gesture caused a furor far beyond Richmond:

 

“The Southern press was much exercised over the condition of affairs, and many unjust editorials were written on statements which were sent out from Richmond by sensational writers.”

 

The potential for solidarity between white and Black workers was deeply threatening to those who depended on racial divisions to stay in power, and no one understood that better than Virginia’s property-owning class. After all, this was the ruling class that during the colonial period invented modern chattel slavery by declaring that white indentured servants could gain their freedom, but that Blacks – because they were Black — would remain enslaved.

 

Richmond had already established itself as the center of pro-Confederate mythology. In 1873, four years before the end of Reconstruction, the newly organized Southern Historical Society moved its headquarters from New Orleans to Richmond – and into rent-free offices in the State Capitol. Hollywood Cemetery, site of the city’s first Confederate Memorial, became a shrine. Pro-Confederate associations  proliferated.

 

After Robert E. Lee died in 1870, various memorial associations bickered over which would sponsor the city’s ultimate monument, the one that would honor the Patron Saint of the Lost Cause. Finally, the state government stepped in to take charge.

 

The dedication of the Lee statue on Monument Avenue took place on May 29, 1890. Marie Tyler-McGraw describes the scene in her book “At the Falls: Richmond, Virginia, and its People”:

 

“The celebration that accompanied the placement and unveiling of the statue of Lee on horseback was elaborate, ritualized and well attended. Although donations had come from all over the South, Richmond’s citizens played a central role in the commemorative ceremonies, which featured most of the white citizenry involved in transporting the statue through the streets.

 

“Infants and toddlers were taken from the nursery to touch the ropes that pulled the statue; one of four ropes was especially for young ladies, and pieces of the rope were kept as souvenirs and passed down in families.”

 

The cutting and distribution of the rope was also a common ritual after lynchings.

 

A 1996 account in The Virginian-Pilot adds that “Confederate Gen. Joseph E. Johnston unveiled the statue while an estimated 100,000 spectators gave vent to their feelings with Rebel Yells, punctuated at intervals with the booming of cannon.”

 

It seems safe to assume that the city’s Black community viewed this display as a hostile act, intended to declare that whites were back in charge – or at rich whites, strongly supported by white workers.

 

Writing in The Richmond Planet, editor John Mitchell Jr. declared that the Confederate flags and yells “told in no uncertain tones that they still cling to theories which were presumed to be buried for all eternity.” Instead, he wrote, the ceremonies “handed a legacy of treason and blood to the future.”

 

Commenting on the project’s male committee members, Mitchell added that “Most of them were at a table, either on top or under it, when the war was going on.’’

 

So the myth-makers accomplished their goal --- for a time. White workers were waving Confederate flags instead of union picket signs. And whenever the specter of working-class unity threatened to re-emerge, as during the Great Depression, the icons of the Confederacy could be exhumed and paraded again --- backed up, when necessary, by the threat of racist violence.

 

The result? Today the South is the least unionized region of the country. White workers may have the corner on the best jobs, but they are paid substantially less than their counterparts in the rest of the country.

 

Today, 117 years later, working people are again facing hard times. The country is at war, wages are stagnant, the housing market is tanking. But, once again, organized labor is beginning to show signs of life.

 

So it seems far more than a coincidence that the rich and powerful have chosen this time to try and reinvigorate the myth of Lee-as-Hero. 2007 will be a year of ceremonies, parades, meetings and rallies honoring Lee and designed to persuade white workers that their loyalty should be to their race, not to their own multi-racial class.

 

Hopefully, this issue of The Richmond Defender will help persuade them otherwise.

 

 

 

The real Robert E. Lee

 

Lee the slave owner

 

Part of the Lee Myth is that Lee didn’t personally own slaves.

 

Not true. In late 1857, Lee inherited some 63 enslaved Africans from his father-in-law, G.W.P Curtiss.

 

Technically, these slaves were the property of Lee’s wife, Mary. However, it would be hard to seriously argue that a white man of property in pre-Civil War Virginia didn’t also own and control his wife’s property. These men, women and children were forced to labor on Lee’s plantation, and were brutally punished by him if they attempted to escape.

 

Curtiss’ will specified that the slaves were to be freed within five years of his death, which occurred on Oct. 10, 1857. The five-year period was to allow the will’s executors to take care of the legal paperwork for emancipation “in such manner as may to [them] seem most expedient and proper.”

 

Lee was one of the executors. He did file a “deed of manumission” with the Court of the City of Richmond, but waited until Dec. 29, 1862 – more than five years after Curtiss’ death.

 

In other words, this man whose apologists claim was opposed to slavery kept these scores of human beings in bondage as long as he legally could, and then some. (A copy of Curtiss’ will is posted at www.nathanielturner.com/willofgeorgewashingtonparkecustis.htm.)

 

Lee at Harper’s Ferry

 

In October 1959, just six months before the outbreak of the Civil War, militant abolitionist John Brown led a band of some 20 Black and white freedom fighters in a raid on the federal armory at Harper’s Ferry, Va. Their goal was to spark a general uprising throughout the South to end slavery once and for all.

 

Col. Robert E. Lee let the federal troops sent to put down the rebellion. Most of the abolitionists were killed. Brown was severely wounded and captured. Just weeks later he was put on trial for treason, convicted and executed on Dec. 2. (For Lee’s official report of the battle at Harper’s Ferry, see www.law.umkc.edu/faculty/projects/ftrials/johnbrown/leereport.html.)

 

Lee in the Mexican War

 

By 1846, Lee had been an officer in the U.S. Army for 17 years, but had never seen combat. Then came the U.S.-Mexican War of 1846-1848. The U.S. Government had its eyes on Mexican lands and created a phony incident to justify an invasion. Lee served as an engineer and scout, and then as an aide to Gen. Winfield Scott, the commander of U.S. forces in the war. Mexico lost the war and was forced to sign the Treaty of Guadalupe-Hidalgo, surrendering nearly half its land, including Texas and what is now California, Nevada, Utah, and parts of Colorado, Arizona, New Mexico and Wyoming. (This is why many Mexican immigrants today say, “We didn’t cross the border, the border crossed us.”) The war was a disaster for Mexico, but very good for Lee, who gained valuable military experience and a promotion to the rank of colonel.

 

Lee, in his own words

 

“Blacks are immeasurably better off here than in Africa, morally, socially & physically. The painful discipline they are undergoing, is necessary for their instruction as a race, & I hope will prepare & lead them to better things. How long their subjugation may be necessary is known & ordered by a wise Merciful Providence. — from a letter to his wife, Dec. 27, 1856

 

 “I have always observed that wherever you find the Negro, everything is going down around him, and wherever you find the white man, you see everything around him improving.” — to fellow Virginian Col. Thomas H. Carter, June, 1865

 

“I think it would be better for Virginia if she could get rid of them. ... I think that everyone there would be willing to aid it.” — testifying on race and politics before the Joint Committee on Reconstruction in Washington, D.C., Feb. 17, 1866

 

“Wherever I have been, [Black people] have been quiet and orderly, not disposed to work, or rather not disposed to any continuous engagement to work, but just very short jobs, to provide them with the immediate means of subsistence. ... They are an amiable, social race. They like their ease and comfort, and, I think, look more to their present than their future.” — ibid

 

“My own opinion is that, at this time, they cannot vote intelligently, and that giving them the [vote] would lead to a great deal of damagogism [sic], and lead to embarassments [sic] in various ways.” — ibid

 

Lee’s wife on emancipation

 

“We are all here dreadfully plundered by the lazy idle negroes who are lounging about the streets doing nothing but looking what they may plunder during the night.  … When we get rid of the Freedman’s bureau & can take the law in our hands we may perhaps do better. If they would only take all their pets north it would be happy riddance to all.” —  from a letter to her friend Emily Mason, May 20, 1866

 

Frederick Douglass on Lee

 

“After Lee’s death in 1870, Frederick Douglass, the former fugitive slave who had become the nation’s most prominent African-American, wrote, ‘We can scarcely take up a newspaper ... that is not filled with nauseating flatteries’ of Lee, from which ‘it would seem ... that the soldier who kills the most men in battle, even in a bad cause, is the greatest Christian, and entitled to the highest place in heaven.’”

— The Smithsonian Magazine, July 2003 (www.smithsonianmagazine.com/issues/2003/july/robertlee.php)

 

 

 

What happened when they tried to escape from Lee’s plantation

 

Part of the Lee Myth is that Lee was personally opposed to slavery, that he joined the Southern secessionists only because he couldn’t bear to take up arms against his beloved Virginia.

 

Bull. Lee owned slaves and profited from their exploited labor. And when they tried to escape, he was as brutal as any other slave owner of the time.

 

This is the testimony of one of those enslaved Africans.

 

“My name is Wesley Norris; I was born a slave on the plantation of George Parke Custis; after the death of Mr. Custis, Gen. Lee, who had been made executor of the estate, assumed control of the slaves, in number about seventy; it was the general impression among the slaves of Mr. Custis that on his death they should be forever free; in fact this statement had been made to them by Mr. C. years before; at his death we were informed by Gen. Lee that by the conditions of the will we must remain slaves for five years; I remained with Gen. Lee for about seventeen months, when my sister Mary, a cousin of ours, and I determined to run away, which we did in the year 1859; we had already reached Westminster, in Maryland, on our way to the North, when we were apprehended and thrown into prison, and Gen. Lee notified of our arrest; we remained in prison fifteen days, when we were sent back to Arlington; we were immediately taken before Gen. Lee, who demanded the reason why we ran away; we frankly told him that we considered ourselves free; he then told us he would teach us a lesson we never would forget; he then ordered us to the barn, where, in his presence, we were tied firmly to posts by a Mr. Gwin, our overseer, who was ordered by Gen. Lee to strip us to the waist and give us fifty lashes each, excepting my sister, who received but twenty; we were accordingly stripped to the skin by the overseer, who, however, had sufficient humanity to decline whipping us; accordingly Dick Williams, a county constable, was called in, who gave us the number of lashes ordered; Gen. Lee, in the meantime, stood by, and frequently enjoined Williams to “lay it on well,” an injunction which he did not fail to heed; not satisfied with simply lacerating our naked flesh, Gen. Lee then ordered the overseer to thoroughly wash our backs with brine, which was done. After this my cousin and myself were sent to Hanover Court-House jail, my sister being sent to Richmond to an agent to be hired; we remained in jail about a week, when we were sent to Nelson county, where we were hired out by Gen. Lee’s agent to work on the Orange and Alexander railroad; we remained thus employed for about seven months, and were then sent to Alabama, and put to work on what is known as the Northeastern railroad; in January, 1863, we were sent to Richmond, from which place I finally made my escape through the rebel lines to freedom; I have nothing further to say; what I have stated is true in every particular, and I can at any time bring at least a dozen witnesses, both white and black, to substantiate my statements: I am at present employed by the Government; and am at work in the National Cemetary on Arlington Heights, where I can be found by those who desire further particulars; my sister referred to is at present employed by the French Minister at Washington, and will confirm my statement.

 

Testimony of Wesley Norris (1866); reprinted in “Slave Testimony: Two Centuries of Letters, Speeches, and Interviews, and Autobiographies;” edited by John W. Blassingame; Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press (ISBN 0-8071-0273-3.)

 

 

[Articles and editorial by Phil Wilayto, editor of The Richmond Defender.]

Enter content here

From the front page of

The Richmond Defender
Vol. II, No 1 --- January 2006

 

Defenders call for  “NO GAS CUT-OFFS!”

By Phil Wilayto

 

“Don’t cut off anyone’s gas this winter!” 

 

That’s what the Defenders for Freedom, Justice & Equality are asking the City of Richmond. 

 

A representative of the Richmond-based community organization will be making the request at the first City Council meeting of 2006, scheduled for 6 p.m. Monday, Jan. 9, on the second floor of City Hall, 900 E. Broad St. 

 

“We hope everyone will join us at council that evening,” said Defender Dieyah Rasheed. “This is an important issue for the city’s working poor.”

 

Each winter, paying for heat is a major challenge for the area’s low-income residents. Last year between Dec. 21 and March 20, there were 1,713 gas cut-offs, according to Department of Public Utilities spokesman Bill Farrar. The department provides gas, water and a combination of gas and water to approximately 111,000 residential customers. 

 

As a result of gas cut-offs, residents often turn to alternative sources of heat, such as fireplaces, wood stoves and kerosene or electric portable heaters. That in turn can lead to fires, injuries and deaths.  At present, the Richmond Fire Department doesn’t track how many of its service calls are due to fires caused by these alternative sources of heat. (That will change soon, according to RFD spokesman Lt. Keith Vida, as plans are implemented to install new tracking software.) But the facts now known are sobering.  “In Richmond last year, two residents lost their lives in alternative heating source fires,” Lt. Vida told the Defender. “A bunch of other people lost houses or had significant damage to their houses due to alternative heating sources,” he said. 

 

Nationally, alternative heating sources account for 25 percent of home heating fires, but are responsible for 74 percent of deaths and 30 percent of injuries, according to the National Fire Protection Association.  This year, the problem is expected to be much worse. The price of natural gas has skyrocketed, due to the damage of gas refineries caused by the Gulf Coast hurricanes. Another cause has been the resulting speculation in gas futures on Wall Street.

 

As a result, the average Richmond gas bill is expected to rise 39 percent, as the city passes the increased prices along to its customers.  “The City Administration has tried to withhold an increase in the cost of natural gas for as long as possible,” said Chief Administrative Officer William E. Harrell, “but we must now pass along the higher costs that are being charged to us.” 

 

The expected increase in both natural gas and oil prices has the Richmond Fire Department concerned, according to a recent RFD press release:  “[Richmond Fire] Chief [Robert A.] Creecy recognized the direct relationship [the hurricanes] would have with higher heating costs, the increased use of alternative heating sources especially portable heaters, and the likelihood of additional tragedy as more residents than ever would be turning to these heating sources to stay warm.” 

As a result, the Fire Department has launched a safety awareness campaign. Part of the campaign involves distributing free “fire safety” yardsticks that residents can use to ensure that there are no flammable materials within 36 inches of an alternate fuel source. The department is also providing free smoke alarms and installations to qualifying residents. (See accompanying box for more information.) 

 

Meanwhile, the Utilities Department has taken steps to help its customers pay the expected increase in gas bills. Plus, there are private agencies that offer relief. (See accompanying box.)  Even so, the danger of an increasing number of fires remains. Most of the above-mentioned resources were available last winter, but the city still suffered two deaths due to the use of alternative heating sources.  This is why the Defenders will be asking City Council to suspend all gas cut-offs through March 20, the last day of winter. Already, the city doesn’t cut off gas to any customer over the age of 65. But that policy does not apply to customers in their early 60s, to single mothers with small children, to households with disabled residents or to others with special needs. 

 

“We’re urging all our friends and supporters to join us at City Council on Jan. 9,” said Defenders organizer Rasheed. “We need everyone there to convince Council there’s a real need for a ban on gas cutoffs this winter.”

 

For more information, call the Defenders at (804) 644-5834 or e-mail: DefendersFJE@hotmail.com.

 

What now for Shockoe Bottom?                                      By Ana Edwards

It looks like the proposal for a baseball stadium in Shockoe Bottom is dead. And while we cannot directly claim a victory, this is certainly good news.

 

Global Development Partners’ smoke-and-mirrors financing plan evaporated in the face of Richmond Mayor L. Douglas Wilder’s “show-me-the-money” inquiries. It turns out that GDP’s promise that the Wall Street investment firm Lehman Brothers was willing to plunk down $50 million may have been a bunch of hot air.

 

So it was the lack of money that sealed the project’s fate. Most civic decisions tend to come down to the money.

 

But, who knows? Perhaps Lehman Brothers got wind of Shockoe Bottom’s historic importance to the African-American community and decided to err on the side of caution. After all, the firm, with its roots in servicing Southern slave owners, had recently been the target of a class-action lawsuit for reparations.

 

Apologies notwithstanding, enough bad press may have been enough.

 

The Defenders’ Sacred Ground Historical Reclamation Project and many supportive organizations and individuals have remained steadfast in opposing a stadium in Shockoe Bottom - even when GDP’s Tim Kissler offered to help us land a $10 million grant if we’d go along with the proposal.

 

Let the record show: the Defenders are not for sale.

 

The Sacred Ground project was founded back in October 2004 with the primary mission of reclaiming the so-called “Burial Ground for Negroes” that now lies abandoned under a private parking lot at 15th and East Broad streets. But throughout 2005 the group’s energies have been focused on defending Shockoe Bottom from attack by GDP’s and the Richmond Braves’ development plans.

 

We’ve made repeated presentations to Richmond City Council, written articles, distributed fliers, made presentations in other cities and circulated a petition titled “Defend Richmond’s Black History” that called for an economic boycott of the city in 2007 should the stadium be built. More than 100 local, national and international organizations and individuals have signed that petition.

 

One particular highlight was our successful march and rally in March that deflated GDP’s attempt to show public support for its proposal.

 

A well-financed rally by YES! Progress Richmond at the 17th Street Farmers Market drew only about 150 people. The Defenders and Sacred Ground brought 80 opponents and with banners and chants marched on the stadium rally.

 

That action received extensive coverage by virtually all the city’s newspapers, all three local TV stations and even the remote radio broadcast the YES! folks had at their event. After that, GDP and the Braves gave up trying to manufacture public “support.”

 

Sacred Ground also has produced an alternative development plan for Shockoe Bottom, one based on heritage tourism.

 

Experiencing U.S. history is the number one reason that people outside Virginia visit Richmond. Economic studies, including statistical information gathered from tourism organizations, demonstrate that there is a longer, more sustainable economic boost from historic and heritage tourism than from sports venues.

 

Heritage tourism also provides a solid basis for preservation, investigation and commemoration of significant sites. Couple that with linking jobs and career tracks to educational benefits and vocational skills development, tied directly to the long-term tasks needed for such a project, and you have smarter urban development.

 

This past October we held a Sacred Ground SlamFest as well as a symposium titled “Sites of Significance; Stories of Resistance & Reclamation.” The two events provided both cultural and academic perspectives on the importance of gaining and preserving knowledge that can and should be accessed through sites such as Shockoe Bottom and the Burial Ground.

 

The Sacred Ground project was scheduled to present its alternative plan to the mayor’s Shockoe Advisory Committee Oct. 10. But the committee’s leadership panicked and cancelled the meeting when the media called to ask about attending - even though Kissler’s presentation of the GDP’s proposal had been wide open and well publicized.

 

So we presented our alternative proposal on Dec. 3 at the Defenders 2nd Annual Fighting Fund & Community Awards Dinner. The Advisory Committee has since informed us that we may present our proposal during its January meeting.

 

In the meantime, it looks like the stadium proposal for Shockoe Bottom is dead.

 

So what will happen now? Mayor Wilder believes that with GDP gone the hounds of reinvigorated development may be yelping in packs at the city’s door. If so, we need to stay involved.

 

For example, empire-building Virginia Commonwealth University has identified the site of the Burial Ground for Negroes as an “area of future consideration” in its 2004 15-Year Capital Development Plan. VCU owned the land before selling it to a Cincinnati real estate outfit.

 

Shockoe Bottom is no less endangered now than before and the Burial Ground is under an even more direct threat. 

 

This fight is far from over and we will need your continued support and involvement to win.
 
 

 From the front page of
The Richmond Defender
Vol. I, No 9 --- October 2005
 

Former Social Service Workers Still Fighting for Justice

 

The Coalition for Equitable Treatment of State Employees has been meeting every other week, trying to get someone to listen to their grievances.

The organization is made up of about 20 former employees of the Virginia Department of Social Services.

 

They say they were made scapegoats for failures by the state in administering an emergency food stamp program set up after Hurricane Isabel hit the Richmond area more than two years ago.

Back in September 2003, Isabel left tens of thousands of people without electricity. Food spoiled. When federal money arrived for emergency food assistance, the state hastily hired and trained new workers to process applications.

Within weeks, nearly 548,000 people in more than 194,000 households received $56 million in disaster food stamp benefits, according the Department of Social Services Biannual Report for 2002-2004.

Then, after the chaos began to subside, someone decided that some of those who had received the emergency help had lied about their incomes on their application forms.

There was an investigation. Some called it a witch hunt.
In their attempt to clear their names, the former workers, almost all of whom are African-American women, have won the support of the Virginia State Conference of the NAACP.

“We think they got a raw deal,” said King Salim Khalfani, executive director of the state NAACP. “There were 39 who either resigned or were terminated, or were convicted or pled guilty to misdemeanors. Some had as many as 27 years employed, and rather than risk losing their benefits, they resigned.

“A comparative analysis shows that localities like North Carolina, where there were issues of this kind, allowed the workers to repay the money and keep their jobs,” Khalfani said. “Others didn’t even see fit to prosecute.

“Overall, I think it was overkill by the last commissioner, Maurice Jones,” Khalfani said. “We appealed to the new commissioner, but he was not receptive.”

Jones resigned as commissioner of Social Services in February. He was replaced by Anthony Conyers, the former community services manager for James City County. 

Asked to comment on the situation, Conyers e-mailed the Defender this statement:

“Following hurricane Isabel, the Virginia Department of Social Services (VDSS) followed federally mandated guidelines regarding the reviews of all social services employees under investigation for disaster food stamp relief fraud.

“All employees were afforded due process and independent hearings. Their cases were reviewed and VDSS has found no fault with the process or findings. It is important for us to move forward; it is not in the best interest of the people we serve or the people dismissed to continually revisit these cases.

“While some employees were terminated, I want to stress that the vast majority of social services employees are hard-working public servants dedicated to helping citizens in need throughout the Commonwealth. This has been a very unfortunate chapter in our history; we acknowledge it and consider this chapter closed.”

State Sen. Benjamin J. Lambert III, who has met with the coalition, thinks the charges of fraud were the result of problems with the hastily hired eligibility workers. 

“They gave out wrong information to people applying for food stamps,” he told the Defender. “They didn’t explain it very well, and then six months after the people got the food stamps, they came back and said it was fraud. It’s not the people’s fault, but the eligibility workers who explained it wrong.

“Most of the workers paid the money back, but they were still fired,” he said. “Then they aren’t eligible for benefits. They have a criminal record. They’re left in a very awkward situation, with no money, no benefits, Medicare or Medicaid or anything.”

Sen. Lambert said he intends to speak to “some other people in responsible positions” about helping the workers clear their names. 

Members of the coalition have also met with Richmond Delegate Dwight C. Jones.

Several of the coalition members spoke about their situation with the Defender. They asked that their names not be used because some are still looking for work.

“The eligibility workers did the best they could, but they didn’t ask all the right questions and left out a lot of information that should have been recorded,” one woman said. “And then instead of accepting responsibility, they tried to put it on the people who applied.

“If they would have taken the blame, the department would have had to return the grant to the federal government,” she said.

“So the department decided to blame it on the workers.”

 

 
'Bring the Troops Home Now' rally comes to Richmond
 
Editor’s note: This story is adapted from a report by Matthew Freeman that appears on the Richmond Indy Media Web site. For the full story, see “http://richmond.indymedia.org.”

 

Almost 75 people gathered Sept. 19 for the Bring the Troops Home Now Tour’s Town Hall Meeting at Asbury United Methodist Church in Church Hill.

As people who have served in Iraq or relatives of GIs in Iraq, every member of the tour told highly personal, often emotional stories of their own or their family’s first-hand experience with the war. The message every speaker conveyed was that the troops should come home now, and that all who oppose the war have a duty to speak out – starting with the national anti-war march on Sept. 24 in Washington, D.C.


Charlie Anderson of Iraq Veterans Against the War summed up this message when he said, “If we miss out on the 24th, we’ll miss our appointment with history.”

The meeting was co-chaired by Janet Taylor, Lady President of the Prosser-Truth Division #456 of the UNIA-ACL-Richmond, and Larry Syverson of Military Families Speak Out.

The Southern leg of the three-route tour included stops in Raleigh, Williams-burg, Norfolk and Richmond. Altogether, the tour traveled to more than 50 cities, where participants held rallies, town hall meetings and visited congressional representatives to build support for their goal of getting U.S. troops out of Iraq. 

In Richmond, a “Truth in Recruitment” rally was held at the Virginia Army National Guard office on West Broad Street from noon to 1 p.m. According to rally participant and Gold Star Families for Peace member Julie Cuniglio, 30 to 40 anti-war protestors were present, outnumbering about 10 counter-protestors.

The tour’s Richmond stop was sponsored by the Virginia Anti-War Network.

 

 

From the front page of

The Richmond Defender
Vol. I, No 5 --- June 2005

 

As the Mayor and Council battle it out ...
Who speaks for the people?
 
     For several weeks now, Mayor L. Douglas Wilder and members of Richmond City Council have been thrashing about in a rapidly escalating power struggle.
     But in all the maneuvering and petty posturing, one big question remains unanswered: who, in this supposedly titanic political battle, speaks for the people?
     When the General Assembly changed the city’s charter to allow for a strong, directly elected mayor, it evidently left vague just where City Council’s power ends and the mayor’s begins.
     That uncertainty has been the basis for the battle over next year’s city budget.
Pointing to a projected budget shortfall, the mayor presented council with a funding proposal that eliminated $9 million for virtually every nongovernmental entity in the city.
     That included not only business favorites such as Richmond Renaissance, the Greater Richmond Partnerhip and the Broad Street Community Development Authority, but also such longtime service providers such as the Richmond Behavioral Authority, the Daily Planet, Meals on Wheels and Offender Aid and Restoration.
     Also taking hits were the Elegba Folklore Society and the Metropolitan Business Council, organizations of proven benefit not only to the Black community but the city as a whole.
     Council responded by restoring many of the cuts --- and adding about $5 million more than Wilder had included for the school budget. But it eliminated a proposed 3 percent raise for city workers.
     Then Wilder publicly opposed extending the time the previous council had allowed the Virginia Performing Arts Foundation to raise funds to match those it was receiving from the city and state.
     The PAF is the pet project of some of the city’s most powerful business figures --- including many of those who backed Wilder’s candidacy for mayor.
     Council retaliated by amending its budget proposal to knock out staff funding for Wilder’s longtime political sidekick, Paul Goldman; Wilder’s nephew, Isaac T. Graves, hired as an executive assistant; Wilder’s nine-member $546,410-a-year security detail (which the mayor says he never asked for); and $600,000 Wilder had earmarked for City Hall remodeling so he could move his office to the 17th floor.
     Striking back, Wilder issued a mayoral opinion that council had no right to vote on its amended budget at a special session called for the last day of May. The reason? The mayor insists that the City Charter mandates that budgets must be passed in regular sessions.
     The showdown came on May 31, when council, defying the mayor, unanimously voted for the $555.8 million operating budget.
     But again --- in all the theatrics and brinkmanship, who really speaks for the people?
Not the mayor. Despite his attempts to portray himself as a populist battling the forces of wealth and privilege, the fact remains that the budget he proposed would have wiped out funding for many needed services, affecting not only the people served but the workers who provide those services.
     Even if he were just bluffing, it was still a cruel tactic. How many people were left wondering if they’d even be working after the budget was passed?
     And as for council, its members seemed content to offer the PAF a chance to pick up the old Thalhimer’s site for a song, shovel revenue from the city’s regressive meals tax into PAF Chairman Brad Armstrong’s pockets (via his hefty annual salary) and wipe out a lousy 3 percent raise for city workers while forcing them to shell out $60 a month for a new parking fee and 1.5 percent of their wages for their retirement fund.
     Here’s a alternative proposal: 
     *  Force the city to open its books to show just how much money it really  has --- including the money in all its various slush funds.
     *  Suspend the budget’s projected payments of $2.5 million to SunTrust and $1 million to the Richmond Marriott.
     *   Use the city’s so-called “rainy day fund” to close any real budget gap. After Gaston, it came out that that fund has millions more than it is required to hold by law.  
     *  Pass and enforce a residency requirement that all city employees actually live and invest in the city where they pick up their paychecks. This would immediately and sharply increase tax revenues by creating hundreds if not thousands of new city homeowners --- all of whom would be buying Richmond goods and services. (Note: In 2003, it was reported that 88 percent of all Richmond police officers lived outside of Richmond!)
     *  Make the city’s No. 1 priority drastically reducing Richmond’s 21.7 percent poverty rate by raising the city’s minimum wage to a real living wage for all workers.
     Now that’s a program that could really dry up Richmond’s “cesspool of inefficiency and corruption.”
 
 
What happened to the feds’ review of police shootings?
 
By Phil Wilayto
 
     The U.S. Department of Justice has yet to begin a review of use-of-force incidents requested nearly three months ago by Richmond’s chief of police.
     In fact, it could be several more months before Chief Rodney D. Monroe finds out if the DOJ will even agree to his request.
     “DOJ is doing a preliminary evaluation to decide if they will conduct a Use of Force Review,” according to a statement issued May 31 by the Police Department’s legal department.
     “That preliminary evaluation has just begun and could take several months or perhaps less depending on the complexity of the cases.”
     The statement was released to the Defender by the Police Department’s Public Affairs Unit in response to a question about the status of the requested review.
     Back on March 18, the department reported that newly installed Chief Monroe had asked the DOJ’s Special Litigations Section to review all use-of-force cases for the previous five years.
     “The review would include examining the department’s training and policy as it relates to use of force,” according to the statement, which was posted on the department’s Web site.
     “We already have begun to review our practices,” Chief Monroe was quoted as saying. “This review would ensure we have the best practices dealing with the use of deadly force.
     “Every step must be taken to ensure we maintain the highest level of professionalism  and integrity  in  dealing with the use of
deadly force. Our members must receive the highest quality of training.”
     Since June 2001, there have been at least 11 fatal shootings by Richmond police officers, plus an unknown number of nonfatal shootings. That does not include other use-of-force incidents not involving the use of firearms.
     A serious examination of some of those shootings could prove embarrassing to the department — and could result in charges and civil lawsuits being filed.
     For example, in June 2001, Levester Carter, 22, was shot to death by a Richmond police officer in the East End’s Fairfield Court public housing community. Within hours, the department issued a statement that Carter was shot while pointing a gun at approaching officers.
     Six months later, an autopsy report obtained by this reporter revealed that Carter had been shot 13 times — 11 times in the back of his body.
     Ten of those bullets were travelling at an upward angle, indicating that he was lying prone when he was hit — just as at least six witnesses had described, but in direct contradiction to the police account.
     In March 2004, Quinshawn Booker, 20, died in the 1200 block of Admiral Gravely Boulevard in the East End. Police reported he slipped and shot himself. An autopsy report stated the bullet entered the back of his head. A witness reported hearing three shots.
     In May 2004, Santanna Olavarria was fatally shot in the 800 block of Holly Spring Avenue in the East End.
     That shooting was referred to a special grand jury, which recommended that the criminal section of the DOJ’s civil rights division take the case for “investigation and prosectution.”
     Another fatal shooting referred to a grand jury was that of Verlon M. Johnson, 29, shot in May 2002 as he stood shirtless and unarmed on his own front porch on South Side. Detective David D. Melvin was tried twice for manslaughter and once for second-degree murder in that shooting. The first two trials ended in mistrials, the third in an acquittal.
     Johnson’s widow, Rosa C. Johnson, has since filed a civil lawsuit in that case.
 
 
Dems & Repubs trade voter intimidation charges
 
Staff Report
 
     The Virginia Legislative Black Caucus is warning the Republican Party that it’ll have a real fight on its hands if it engages in “illegal” tactics to win back the Governor’s Mansion this November.
     “We must not let what happened in states across America (during the 2004 presidential election) happen here in 2005,” the caucus declared in a press release issued May 27, “and we commit to you today that the Legislative Black Caucus will do everything in its power to make sure it doesn’t.”
     Members of the caucus are currently all Democrats.
     In response, a spokesman for presumed Republican gubernatorial candidate Jerry Kilgore charged that the release was little more than a campaign ploy.
     “I think what we are seeing is members of the state legislature coming forward to try and conduct some damage control by Tim Kaine because of the recent and inexplicable decision to pretty much blow off the NAACP at their awards dinner,” Tim Murtaugh told the Defender.
     Murtaugh was referring to the Oliver W. Hill Freedom Fighter Awards reception held May 20 in Richmond. Kaine was scheduled to speak at the event, but reportedly left before the program began. In contrast, Kilgore spoke from the platform, honoring the state’s trail-blazing civil rights attorneys.
     The Black Caucus statement came in response to comments made May 26 by Republican National Committee Chairman Ken 
Mehlman, who was in town to endorse Kilgore, the former state attorney general who is seeking his party’s nomination for gubernatorial candidate in the June 14 primary.
     A report by the Associated Press paraphrased Mehlman as saying that the national Republican Party’s support for Kilgore would “transcend cash and involve some of the same tactics both parties employed in last November’s bitter presidential election. That includes aggressive get-out-the-vote drives and having poll workers on hand to challenge voter eligibility.”
     “Let’s be clear,” the caucus release stated. “The tactics the Republican Party used to help George Bush beat John Kerry weren’t just ‘aggressive.’ They were in some instances illegal, and in the context of African-Americans’ struggle for the vote, despicable.”
     The release listed instances of what it called “Mr. Mehlman’s ‘aggressive’ tactics,” including stationing Republican lawyers in “minority” precincts to challenge voter eligibility. Further, it charged that “... their very presence intimidated some voters.”
     After receiving the caucus statement, the Defender called the Kilgore for Governor campaign for a response.
     Murtaugh said the reference to having poll workers challenging voter eligibility was not part of Mehlman’s speech endorsing Kilgore, but may have come from a later question-and-answer period with reporters.
     Murtaugh later called back.
“I just listened to a tape of (Mehlman’s) remarks and that was absolutely not in it,” he said.
     The Defender also spoke with Danny Diaz, a Republican National Committee spokesman in Washington, D.C.
     “I think this is just a demonstration of concern that the Democrats have with their candidate, who changes position daily and is unable to present a clear principle,” Diaz said in reference to the caucus press release.
     “So they are relegated to issuing releases that really don’t speak to the issues.”
Asked if the RNC did plan to have people stationed at polls to challenge voter eligibility, Diaz said, “It’s six months before the election, and what I would say is that during the Bush campaign and other campaigns around the country the Republican Party has worked to ensure that every legal vote counts, and that people are able to participate in the political process.”
     So, you’re not going to answer the question, the Defender asked?
     “That is my answer,” Diaz replied. “The Republican Party under the leadership of the president has increased its share of the African-American vote nationwide because we are reaching to the positive in an optimistic method that focuses on results, increased home ownership, employment and opportunity.” 
     Murtaugh said he didn’t know what the RNC had planned, but that he did not know of any plans on the state level to post poll watchers at “minority” polling stations.
     “We have not and we would not stand for any intimidation of voters,” he said. “Everyone has the right to participate in the process.”
     The Defender asked Murtaugh if the Kilgore campaign would object to the RNC posting poll watchers in “minority” neighborhoods.
     “I don’t think we will be discussing election strategy six months in advance,” Murtaugh replied, “but we would not stand for the intimidation of any voters by any party.”
     This is not the first time the two state parties have clashed over the issue of possible voter intimidation. The issue surfaced last fall, during the presidential contest between Democrat John Kerry and his running mate John Edwards, and the Republican team of President George W. Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney. 
     On Oct. 19, Kilgore, acting in his capacity as state chairman for the Bush-Cheney campaign, called on Kaine to “repudiate any and all attempts by the Democrat Party of Virginia to abide by the Kerry-Edwards game plan of inventing false and baseless accusations of voter intimidation at the polls on November 2nd.”
     Kilgore’s statement referred readers to a Democrat “Election Day Manual” apparently distributed in Colorado, in which party workers are coached on how to raise the issue of possible voter intimidation.
     “If no signs of intimidation techniques have emerged yet,” the manual states, “launch a ‘pre-emptive strike,’” including issuing a press release that reviews past alleged Republican intimidation tactics, and which quotes “party/minority/civil rights leadership as denouncing tactics that discourage people from voting.”
     The manual does not advise campaign workers to invent false accusations.
     Del. Dwight Jones, listed as the contact person on the Legislative Black Caucus press release, was not immediately available for comment.
     Asked if he were aware of Kilgore's October statement, Virginia Democratic Party spokesman Kevin Griffith replied this way:
     “This is the standard line that the GOP was pursuing at that time. I think they realized they had a real public relations problem on their hands, in terms of intimidating voters. The list and history of Republican voter intimidation is long, so this is something that isn’t made up overnight. I’ve seen it all over the country, anywhere where there’s a decent-sized minority population.”
     Griffith was asked if he thought the Republicans were planning on using similar tactics in Virginia this fall.
     “Yes, absolutely yes,” he said.
     Asked what the Democrats would do if that situation materializes, Griffith said, “We’ll take a look at that as we move along, see what they have planned and we’ll plan accordingly.”
 
 

 

From the front page of
The Richmond Defender
Vol. I, No 7 --- August 2005

Why we need ‘Community Control of the Police’
A Defenders Editorial
 
     Question: Which is the average Richmonder more afraid of: street crime, or the police?
     It’s a trick question. There is no “average” Richmonder. The answer depends on who you are, where you live, and your experiences with both street crime and police abuse.
     And the truth is, most Richmonders are more likely to be victims of street crime than police brutality.
     That could explain why there has been so little public outcry over the fact that, in the past three years, not one, not two, but three Richmond police officers have been charged with second-degree manslaughter --- murder.
      One officer, Detective David Melvin, was acquitted --- after three trials. The fatal shooting he was involved in is now the subject of a federal lawsuit filed by the victim’s widow, Rosa C. Johnson.
      The Richmond office of the FBI has recently requested documents associated with that case.
     In the second case, Officers Edward Aeschlimann and Michael J. Conture are accused in the shooting death of 21-year-old Santanna Olavarria.
     Three officers arrested and charged with murder can either mean that we have a Police Department run amok, or a criminal justice system capable of disciplining its own.
     Or both.
     But here’s the point: making sure that police officers truly “serve and protect” the community shouldn’t depend on who happens to be the Chief of Police, the Commonwealth’s Attorney or the U.S. Attorney.
     The community itself must control the police, not the other way around. A society in  which the people control the police is called a democracy.
     One in which the police control the people is a police state.
     What’s the solution?
     Richmond needs a Civilian Police Review Board to review residents’ charges of police abuse.
     The board needs to popularly elected, not appointed.
     Its members need to be drawn from all sectors of the population, but particularly from those communities most likely to come into contact with the police. That means the poor and the working poor.
     And it needs to have the power to subpoena witnesses, to suspend officers and to initiate criminal charges.
     The idea of a review board has been proposed before --- by Virginia NAACP Executive Director King Salim Khalfani, by former 6th District Councilman Sa’ad El-Amin and by present 6th District Councilwoman Ellen Robertson.
     It’s an idea that won’t go away --- not until the problem of police abuse goes away.
     And that’s not likely to happen by itself.
 
 
 
Opposition to Shockoe Bottom stadium attracting national attention 
 
By Ana Edwards and Phil Wilayto
 
     The struggle to save Richmond’s historically important Shockoe Bottom area is beginning to gain national attention. 
     The New Standard, a prominent Internet magazine, has just published a report on local opposition to the controversial proposal to build a $330-million baseball stadium and retail/hotel/condo complex on what was once one of the largest slave-trading districts in the United States. 
     The report, by Syracuse, N.Y-.based reporter Catherine Komp, can be read online at
http://newstandardnews.net.  
     Here’s part of what Komp had to say after spending five days in the Capital City: 
“Richmond’s cityscape displays a lop-sided version of its past. Many streets bear visual reminders of defeated Civil War leaders. ... But it is difficult to find sites that commemorate the area’s Black history during this time.” 
     The Defenders for Freedom, Justice & Equality have been fighting the stadium project since it was first proposed. Along with the Alliance to Conserve Old Richmond Neighborhoods (ACORN) and Citizens Organized for Responsible Development (CORD), the Defenders have been working on an alternative proposal for Shockoe Bottom. 
     This includes developing the former slave-trading area as a major destination site for what is called “heritage tourism,” one of the fastest growing segments of the tourism industry today.
     Among the ideas are a genealogy center where people of African descent could research their family histories. 
     The potential is enormous for a revitalized Shockoe Bottom that pays tribute to the suffering and resistance that took place there. Between 1790 and 1859, an estimated 300,000 to 350,000 Black people were sold out of Virginia.
     By the time of the Civil War, there were still fewer than 4.5 million Black people in the entire country.
     That means that, since Richmond was the state’s major slave-trading area, it’s quite possible that the majority of African-Americans today could trace some ancestry to Shockoe Bottom. 
     This is not true for Fredericksburg, where Mayor L. Douglas Wilder is working to build a national slavery museum.
     Further, the Defenders’ proposal calls for the major economic benefits of this development to go to those whose ancestors were enslaved and exploited for profit.
     And it calls for the development to be paid for by the corporations and families whose present-day wealth is the result of involvement in the slave trade and the agricultural and commercial interests it served. 
     The Defenders’ Sacred Ground Historical Reclamation Project will soon be presenting its development proposal to Mayor Wilder’s Shockoe Advisory Committee. The mayor has given the committee until early December to make its recommendations for the future of both Shockoe Bottom and the adjacent Shockoe Slip. 
     To build support for the alternative development plan, the Defenders will hold a seminar and rally in Richmond on Oct. 9, the day before the 205th anniversary of the execution in Shockoe Bottom of Richmond slave rebellion leader Gabriel. 
     For more information on the Shockoe Bottom struggle, and to endorse a statement opposing the stadium, visit the Defenders Web site at
http://DefendersFJE.tripod.com