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Roanoke gathering decries hate crimes, police violence

Roanoke gathering decries hate crimes, police violence

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The shooting of Daunte Wright in Minnesota. The killing of a 13-year-old boy in Chicago. The pepper-spraying of an Army lieutenant in Virginia.

There is still much work to be done. That was the message Friday evening of activists who gathered around the Martin Luther King Jr. statue in Roanoke.

“We witness almost every day an act of injustice against our brothers and sisters,” said Roanoke NAACP President Brenda Hale. “We are done dying.

“Today, we ask to stop the profiling,” she said, her voice rising to a crescendo as people nodded and exclaimed, “That’s right!”

In a press conference joined by Sen. John Edwards, D-Roanoke, and Del. Sam Rasoul, D-Roanoke, advocates spoke of police reform, of the rise in hate crimes against Asian Americans and of the need for people of all creeds to push for change.

“I am tired of being invisible and silent,” said Uyen Tran, a William Fleming High School senior and second vice president of the Roanoke NAACP Youth Council.

“I am asking that action be taken. I am asking that if you see hatred and racism occurring, please speak out and take action against it, because our lives depend on it.”

Tran recalled both her horror at the shootings last month in Atlanta — where eight people, six of whom were of Asian descent, were fatally shot — and her anger over a police spokesman’s description of the killer’s motive as having had a “bad day.”

Growing up, she said, when she faced racism she was advised to push it aside, keep quiet, work harder. Now, she’s resolved to use her voice and fight for stronger hate crime legislation.

“It was ingrained in my culture to keep quiet. But I am not doing that anymore, and especially not today,” she said.

Hale — pointing in part to what she condemned as the despicable treatment of Lt. Caron Nazario by Windsor police officers during a December traffic stop — urged Gov. Northam to reconvene the legislature and take up proposals to end qualified immunity.

The Virginia NAACP has started an online petition pressing for a special session on the issue. The intensely debated subject was deferred for more study during the 2021 General Assembly session.

Edwards, chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee, said he wouldn’t be opposed to revisiting the matter when lawmakers return to Richmond later this year to deal with judicial appointments and budget business.

But he did not sound hopeful that any new consensus could be shaped in that short time. “We’ll see,” he said. “We’ll see.”

Ultimately, he added, action would be needed at the federal level as the qualified immunity doctrine is rooted in federal statute and court rulings.

Edwards said the state had taken historic strides forward on police reform in the past year — banning no-knock warrants, chokeholds and shooting at moving vehicles. More money is being put into training, he said, and new reporting requirements were established to track use of force.

“We have made a lot of progress,” he said. “I think others are looking to Virginia as a leader.”

London Paige, chair of the Roanoke NAACP Youth Council, spoke of the wounds created by each new national report of a hate crime, of gun violence, of a police altercation.

But the 17-year-old also said it gave her hope to see people joining together across generations and across communities to fight for a better future.

“This country requires much more work to be done,” she said. “Remember to spread kindness, promote inclusion and continue to create change.”

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