16 January 2018

Hundreds rally at State Capitol for prisoner rights

The Virginia Defender Staff Report

RICHMOND, VA -- In the largest show of support for Virginia prisoners in memory, more than 300 people turned out Jan. 20 for the Virginia Rally for Prison Reform on Richmond’s Capitol Square.

They came by chartered buses and carpools from Blacksburg and Roanoke, Prince William County and Fredericksburg, Suffolk and Hampton Roads, as well as from the Richmond area. One of the largest contingents was from the NAACP chapter at Norfolk State University.

Many were former prisoners or relatives of prisoners. Some represented prisoner advocacy groups. Others were individuals drawn to the event by the crying need for reform in the Virginia prison system. Several newly seated state legislators were in attendance.

One especially unique feature was that the rally was initiated by a prisoner organization, Virginia Prisoner of Conscience (VAPOC), whose members spread the word among their relatives and friends on the outside. Logistics were handled by the Coalition for Justice of Blacksburg and the Richmond-based Virginia Defenders for Freedom, Justice & Equality.

Co-chaired by Margaret Breslau of the Coalition for Justice and Joseph Rogers of the Virginia Defenders, the rally began with statements from four incarcerated VAPOC members. Statements by some 20 other prisoners were printed, laminated and hung on a literature tent next to the speakers, to be read by rally participants. More than 100 people left their contact information on sign-up sheets at the literature table.

Rally permits for Capitol Square are limited to one hour, so half that time was reserved for former prisoners and people with incarcerated loved ones. A long line formed next to the speakers’ area as dozens waited to share their stories.

The all-volunteer effort featured speakers from a wide range of organizations, including Resource Information Help for the Disadvantaged (RIHD), the Angela Davis' Black Girl Coalition, Bridging the Gap, Virginia Raise Up / Fight for $15 and the ACLU of Virginia, as well as Janet “Queen Nzinga” Taylor, a longtime supporter of Rastafarian prisoners held for nearly 15 years in solitary confinement for refusing to cut their hair, and Henrietta Trotter, representing the family of Jermaine Doss, a wrongfully incarcerated prisoner from Norfolk whose request for a governor’s pardon submitted nearly four years ago has yet to be answered.

Rally endorsers included A Firm Foundation, Inc.; Abu Unity Foundation; ACLU of Virginia; Richmond chapters of the Democratic Socialists of America and Industrial Workers of the World; First Alliance Consulting Group LLC; Interfaith Action for Human Rights of Washington, D.C.; Leaders of the New South; New Virginia Majority; RIHD; Together We Will RVA; Virginia Prisons Accountability Committee (VAPAC); and Young Virginia Voters Center.

The event was videoed by local videographers Silver Persinger (https://vimeo.com/251993742) and David Martin and live-streamed on the Defenders’ Facebook page (https://www.facebook.com/ana.edwards/videos/10156060919023501/).

As the end of the one-hour time limit grew near, several police cars appeared on the edge of the square, but the day’s events were far from over. Hundreds began lining up behind the lead VAPOC banner that read “Stop Mass Incarceration in Virginia! Reinstate Parole! Promote Fair Sentencing! We Need Change in Virginia!”

Participants then marched out onto the sidewalks surrounding the square chanting “Money for Jobs and Education, not for Mass Incarceration!” and “What do we want? JUSTICE! When do we want it? NOW!” The chants got especially loud as the march passed the Governor’s Mansion, where newly inaugurated Gov. Ralph Northam has taken up residence.

Later that afternoon, more than two dozen rally participants met at Wesley Memorial United Methodist Church in the city’s East End to build on the day’s success. The collective decision was to build a statewide network of prisoners, ex-prisoners, prisoner families, advocates and supporters to facilitate communication, publicize prison reform bills, share resources, support each others’ struggles and keep these issues in the public consciousness.

For more information and to get involved, contact: justicebburg@gmail.com.

05 November 2017

Latest issue of THE VIRGINIA DEFENDER!

CLICK HERE for the Autumn 2017 issue

INSIDE THIS ISSUE:

Does RVA have a Master Plan to Push out the Poor?

Special 4-page section: Shockoe Bottom, Confederate Statues & the Demand for Accountability 

Property owner says East End post office to reopen very soon 

Did Stoney & Durham hype the danger of the neo-Confederate "rally"?  

plus Labor, Immigrant, Prisoner & Antiwar News

& much more!

03 October 2017

Oct. 10: MARCH for ACCOUNTABILITY

The newly formed Coalition for Accountability held a MARCH FOR ACCOUNTABILITY on Tuesday, Oct. 10, the 217th anniversary of the execution of the great slave rebellion leader Gabriel at the Town Gallows in Shockoe Bottom.

We multiply our individual strengths by supporting each other in our various struggles and call for ACTION and ACCOUNTABILITY from our city leaders!

The march began at 6 p.m. at the Robert E. Lee statue on Monument Avenue and headed to the Devil’s Half Acre in Shockoe Bottom, where community leaders addressed the current issues facing our people today:

Take Down the Confederate Statues 
     & Build the Shockoe Bottom Memorial Park!
Fix the Schools!
Expand Public Transit!
Hands Off Public Housing!
Fight for $15!
Hands Off Immigrants!
LGBTQ Rights!
No Pipelines!
Serve the People!

For a full report, see the Autumn 2017 issue of The Virginia Defender.

13 September 2017

Join the Defenders Sept. 16 in Richmond to protest white supremacy!

NO to White Supremacy! 
Confederate Heritage IS Hate! 
Take down all the Confederate statues NOW!


On Saturday, Sept. 16, a Tennessee-based organization called the New Confederate States of America (CSA II) plans to hold some kind of gathering at or near the Lee statue on Richmond’s Monument Avenue. The group’s stated purpose is “standing up to protect the General Robert E. Lee Monument in Richmond, Virginia from being taken down or destroyed.”

The organizers claim that “This rally is a Heritage ~ Not Hate Rally.” Right. Waving Confederate flags near a Lee statue so soon after Charlottesville in a city that is half-Black is clearly meant to be a declaration of white supremacy and must be opposed.

Many Richmond progressive groups have called for protests, some on Monument Avenue, some in other parts of the city. We support all expressions of anti-racism.

For our part, we will be as near to the Lee statue as possible, with signs, banners and chants denouncing white supremacy and calling for the Confederate statues to be taken down.


(For more details, see the Facebook event page "Join the Defenders Sept. 16 to protest White Supremacy!"

Richmond today is facing many daunting problems, from the sorry state of our public school buildings to plans to demolish public housing to the shrinking of public transit to a 25% poverty rate to the epidemic of street violence. And in one way or another they all are the result of the culture and institutions of white supremacy. If we are going to be able to address these challenges, we should at least be able to remove the city’s most offensive symbols of racism.

Please join us this Saturday!

14 August 2017

Report on Charlottesville & Richmond
From The Virginia Defender

On Aug. 12, some 500 fascists gathered at Charlottesville's Emancipation Park. Many came prepared for battle, with helmets, shields, body padding and visible weapons, including guns. Thousands of defiant protesters massed in the surrounding streets. Shouted insults morphed into throwing water bottles, then more dangerous projectiles, then fistfights. Pepper spray and some kind of tear gas left many people choking and gasping for air, but the protesters kept up their presence mere feet from the fascists.  READ THE FULL REPORT HERE

NOTE: Since this report was written, the organizers of the planned Sept. 13 rally at Richmond’s Lee monument have withdrawn their permit request; Gov. McAuliffe has suspended the granting of any permits for rallies at the statue; and Richmond Mayor Stoney has said that removing the five Confederate statues on Monument Avenue will now be considered. The struggle continues.

Defender VIDEOS of the events:

Fascists gather for rally inside Emancipation Park
Facists use tear gas outside Emancipation Park
Defenders rally the crowd to “Hold the Line!"
State Police Officer admits they are not protecting the people