Published in the Free Lance-Star.
Last October, state Attorney General Mark Herring spoke at the annual conference of the grassroots community group Virginia Organizing. He pledged before an audience of 150 to meet with our organization and police chiefs across the state to discuss data collection on racial profiling.
Although we lack quantitative data on racial profiling in Virginia, there are strong indications that people and communities of color are over-policed. You don’t have to look very far to find anecdotal evidence of excessive use of force on them.
In 2013, Lantz Day, a black man, was a passenger in a car that damaged parked vehicles in downtown Fredericksburg. The driver fled, but Day was detained by the police after being shocked with a stun gun for 42 seconds, much longer than official policy for Taser use. Day suffered a concussion and back injury from the incident as reported in The Free Lance–Star [“Man Tasered by Fredericksburg police in 2013 seeks $5M in federal lawsuit,” Nov. 19, 2015].
More recently, a Fredericksburg police officer used a Taser and pepper spray against an unarmed black man, David Washington, when he didn’t respond to the officer’s orders. As reported in the newspaper [“Fredericksburg officer resigns after probe into Taser incident,” May 21, 2015], it turned out Washington was suffering a stroke at the time. The officer in this incident resigned.
Without the needed data, we have no way to know how much more likely people of color are subjected to excessive law enforcement methods than their white counterparts. North Carolina and Maryland have recently instituted the collection of statistics on racial profiling in order to address the problem.
We now have the police chiefs in Virginia ready to meet with us, but Attorney General Herring’s office has not returned our telephone calls. We hope his office will follow through with a promised meeting soon.