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INTERACTIVE: Groups split over proposed overdose immunity bill

Groups, including former drug users, are split over a Senate bill that would give immunity to both someone reporting or experiencing an overdose. In a recent unanimous vote, the Senate passed Senate Bill 667, introduced by Sen. Jennifer Boysko, D-Fairfax. The bill expands on the current protection offered only to the person reporting the overdose, who can be charged but has an affirmative defense which leads to dropped or reduced charges when proven they reported an overdose.

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By Joseph Whitney Smith

Groups, including former drug users, are split over a Senate bill that would give immunity to both someone reporting or experiencing an overdose.

In a recent unanimous vote, the Senate passed Senate Bill 667, introduced by Sen. Jennifer Boysko, D-Fairfax. The bill expands on the current protection offered only to the person reporting the overdose, who can be charged with a crime but has an affirmative defense, which leads to dropped or reduced charges when proven they reported an overdose.

This new bill would offer immunity to both the person reporting the overdose and experiencing the overdose, meaning no charges would be filed. The bill protects individuals from arrest or prosecution for the unlawful purchase, possession or consumption of alcohol, controlled substances, marijuana or having drug paraphernalia.

The legislation also states that no officers acting in good faith will be found liable for false arrest if it is later determined the individual arrested was immune from prosecution because they overdosed or reported an overdose.

“In Virginia, friends often do not call for help for fear of being arrested,” Boysko said at the committee hearing for the bill.

Boysko told Senate members that every second matters in an overdose and that data show bystanders are three times more likely to call 911 when there is a safe reporting law such as her proposed bill. She also said that the state needs to stop criminalizing individuals that are attempting to seek urgent help for themselves or others.

“Virginia’s death toll from opioid overdoses continues to rise despite state and local government spending millions of dollars to make naloxone available,” Boysko said. “More than 1,500 died just in 2019 in Virginia from drug overdoses.”

According to the Virginia Department of Health, overdose is the leading cause of unnatural death in the state since 2013, followed by motor vehicle related and gun deaths.

“With the new law we’re looking at a healthcare solution for a healthcare crisis,” said Nathan Mitchell, who said he was previously addicted to drugs. Mitchell now serves as the community outreach and advocacy coordinator at the McShin Foundation. Mitchell said the proposed bill does not provide protection for crimes such as distribution or a firearm at the scene of the overdose, only drug and paraphernalia possession.

According to Mitchell, drug incarceration is inconsistent in the commonwealth. He said after his first drug-related arrest he wasn’t introduced to a recovery program. But, after his second arrest, he received treatment through the help of the McShin Foundation. He said that inconsistency is an example that not all individuals who overdose will have access to the same treatment.

Drug courts are specialized courts where individuals plead guilty and agree to complete the drug court program. Not every locality in the commonwealth has a drug court, though state law authorizes any locality to establish one with the support of existing and available local, state and federal resources.

Mitchell said that individuals may not report an overdose to help protect the individual overdosing from being charged with a crime. He said that’s why a bill granting immunity to both parties is important.

John Shinholser, president and co-founder of the McShin Foundation, a nonprofit that focuses on recovery education and recovery, testified in favor of Boysko’s bill.

“This is evidence-based, data-driven proof that this bill will reduce deaths in Virginia during this crisis,” Shinholser said.

Goochland County resident Micheal McDermott spoke in opposition of Boysko’s bill during the Senate committee meeting. McDermott said he’s been in recovery from substance abuse disorder for over 28 years. The bill has good intentions but immunity should only be given to the person reporting, not overdosing, McDermott said.

“I don’t think it’s a good idea,” he said.

There’s no guarantee that an overdose victim treated by paramedics will find recovery, McDermott said. If the person overdosing is on probation, they should receive a probation violation, and perhaps get the needed court-mandated treatment.

Westmoreland County Commonwealth’s Attorney Julia Sichol spoke last month at a House subcommittee in opposition to similar legislation that failed to advance, on behalf of the Virginia Association of Commonwealth’s Attorneys. Sichol said she thinks a bill offering immunity “can also cause harm to lives” because it keeps the person overdosing from being charged with a crime and could possibly prevent them from receiving court-mandated treatment.

“Drug treatment is extremely expensive and sometimes the only way to get the treatment for the individuals is through the court system,” Sichol said. “If you take away the ability for individuals to be charged who have overdosed they are not eligible to participate in drug treatment program, they are not eligible to go through the court system under mandated treatment.”

On Friday, SB 667 was assigned to a House subcommittee.

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The Capital News Service is a flagship program of VCU’s Richard T. Robertson School of Media and Culture. In the program, journalism students cover news in Richmond and across Virginia and distribute their stories, photos, and other content to more than 100 newspapers, television and radio stations, and news websites.

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Library of Virginia Literary Awards Winners Announced

Cottom, Tilghman, and Kingsley are the 2020 recipients honored by the Library of Virginia.

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The Library of Virginia is pleased to announce the winners of the 23rd Annual Library of Virginia Literary Awards, which were held virtually this year. Sponsored by Dominion Energy, the October 17 awards celebration was hosted by best-selling author and award-winning filmmaker Adriana Trigiani. Awards categories were nonfiction, fiction, and poetry; People’s Choice Awards for fiction and nonfiction; and Art in Literature: The Mary Lynn Kotz Award. Winners in each category receive a monetary prize and a handsome engraved crystal book.

Tressie McMIllan Cottom Photo provided by Library of Virginia

The winner of the 2020 Literary Award for Nonfiction is Tressie McMIllan Cottom for her book Thick: And Other Essays.

“The provocative and brilliant chapters hold a mirror to the soul of America in painfully honest and gloriously affirming explorations of contemporary culture,” wrote the award judges. “Streetwise and erudite, Cottom explodes the myth that the ‘personal essay’ is the only genre in mainstream publishing and journalism open for public commentary by female writers of color.”

Cottom, who has just been named a 2020 MacArthur Fellow, is a recipient of the Doris Entwisle Award of the American Sociological Association for her scholarship on inequality, work, higher education, and technology. In addition to Thick, she is the author of Lower Ed and her work has been featured by the New York Times, the Washington Post, The Atlantic, PBS, NPR, Fresh Air, and The Daily Show, among others. She recently left Richmond, where she had been an associate professor of sociology at Virginia Commonwealth University, for a position at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill.

The other finalists for the nonfiction prize were Erik Nielson and Andrea L. Dennis for Rap on Trial: Race, Lyrics, and Guilt in America and Mary M. Lane for Hitler’s Last Hostages: Looted Art and the Soul of the Third Reich.

Chris Tilghman Photo Credit: Susan Kalergis

Christopher Tilghman won the 2020 Emyl Jenkins Sexton Literary Award for Fiction for his book Thomas and Beal in the Midi. “This lushly written novel follows an interracial American couple in a family saga after they emigrate to escape bigotry in 1892,” wrote the award judges. “Its evocative descriptions of fin de siècle France and skillfully drawn characters add up to a sensitive and satisfying portrait of a marriage.”

Tilghman is the author of two short-story collections, In a Father’s Place and The Way People Run, and three previous novels, Mason’s Retreat, The Right-Hand Shore, and Roads of the Heart. He is a professor of English at the University of Virginia and lives with his wife, the novelist Caroline Preston, in Charlottesville, Virginia, and in Centreville, Maryland.

The other finalists for the fiction award were Angie Kim for Miracle Creek and Tara Laskowski for One Night Gone.

Naka-Hasebe Kingsley Photo provided by Library of Virginia

Benjamín Naka-Hasebe Kingsley is the winner of the Poetry Award this year for his book Colonize Me, which explores the experience of living as a Native American in today’s America. “The poems emerge from overlapping histories of violence and struggle not as fractured identity but as integrated multiplicity” wrote the award judges. “Kingsley uses form and language to indict the micro and macro aggressions of colonization with irony, heartbreak, and joy.”

An Affrilachian author and Kundiman alum, Kingsley is a recipient of the Provincetown Fine Arts Work Center and Tickner Fellowships. His is also the author of Not Your Mama’s Melting Pot (2018) and Dēmos (coming in 2021). He is an assistant professor of English in Old Dominion University’s MFA program.

The other finalists for the poetry award were Lauren K. Alleyne for Honeyfish and David Huddle for My Surly Heart.

Philip J. Deloria Photo Credit: Jim Harrison

The Art in Literature: The Mary Lynn Kotz Award went to Philip J. Deloria for his book Becoming Mary Sully: Toward an American Indian Abstract. In Becoming Mary Sully, Deloria reclaims the artist’s work from obscurity, exploring her stunning portfolio through the lenses of modernism, industrial design, Dakota women’s aesthetics, mental health, ethnography and anthropology, primitivism, and the American Indian politics of the 1930s. Presented by the Library and the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, the Art in Literature Award recognizes an outstanding book published in the previous year that is written primarily in response to a work (or works) of art while also showing the highest literary quality as a creative or scholarly work. This unique award, established in 2013, is named in honor of Mary Lynn Kotz, author of the award-winning biography Rauschenberg: Art and Life.

The winners of the People’s Choice Awards are The Substitution Order by Martin Clark in the fiction category and Mary Ball Washington: The Untold Story of George Washington’s Mother by Craig Shirley in the nonfiction category. Winners are chosen by online voting.

“The Substitution Order mixes legal expertise and wry humor in a story rich with atmosphere, memorable characters, and surprises right up to the end,” wrote the judges about the novel by Martin Clark, who is a circuit court judge in Patrick County, Virginia.

“Craig Shirley’s sprightly biography suggests that George Washington’s first fight for independence was from his controlling, singular mother—a resilient widow who singlehandedly raised six children on a large farm,” wrote the judges about Mary Ball Washington. Shirley is an author and public affairs consultant who splits his time between homes on the Rappahannock River in Lancaster County and a 300-year-old Georgian manor house in Tappahannock, Virginia.

The evening’s featured speaker was Douglas Brinkley, who was honored for his outstanding contributions to American history and literature as an award-winning, best-selling author and U.S. presidential historian. In addition to our presenting sponsor, Dominion Energy, the Literary Awards were made possible by Liz and Preston Bryant Jr., Christian & Barton LLP, MercerTrigiani, Anna Moser and Peter Schwartz, Kathy and Steve Rogers, the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, Carole and Marcus Weinstein, Weinstein Properties, and the Library of Virginia Foundation.

Next year’s Library of Virginia Literary Awards Celebration will be held on October 16, 2021.

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Virginia lawmakers pass legislation to make Juneteenth a state holiday

Juneteenth has officially become a state holiday after lawmakers unanimously approved legislation during the Virginia General Assembly special session.

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By Sam Fowler

Juneteenth has officially become a state holiday after lawmakers unanimously approved legislation during the Virginia General Assembly special session.

Juneteenth marks the day news of the Emancipation Proclamation reached Texas, which was the last state to abolish slavery. The companion bills were introduced by Sen. Mamie Locke, D-Hampton, and Del. Lamont Bagby, D-Richmond. Gov. Ralph Northam signed the legislation on Oct. 13.

“Juneteenth is the oldest celebration of the end of slavery in the United States,” Northam said during a press conference held that day. “It’s time we elevate this, not just a celebration by and for some Virginia, but one acknowledged and celebrated by all of us.”

Del. Joshua Cole, D-Fredericksburg, introduced a bill in the legislative session earlier this year to recognize Juneteenth, but the proposal didn’t advance.

Northam proposed making Juneteenth a state holiday in June during a press conference that included musician and Virginia-native Pharrell Williams. Northam signed an executive order that gave executive branch employees and state colleges the day off. Some Virginia localities, such as Richmond and several places in Hampton Roads, also observed the holiday this year.

“I think it is overdue that the Commonwealth formally honor and celebrate the emancipation and end of slavery,” Del. Mark Cole, R-Fredericksburg, a co-patron of the bill, said in an email. “It was a step towards fulfilling the promise of equality contained in our founding documents.”

The Elegba Folklore Society, a Richmond-based organization focused on promoting African culture, history and arts, is one of the groups that has been celebrating the holiday for decades. The celebration usually is a three-day weekend event that looks at the history of Juneteenth. A torch-lit walk down the Trail of Enslaved Africans in Richmond is also held, said Janine Bell, the society’s president and artistic director.

“We take time to just say thank you to our ancestors, their contributions, their forfeitures, their trials and tribulations,” Bell said. “We invite people to Richmond’s African burial ground so that we can go there and pay homage from a perspective of African spirituality.”

Juneteenth should not be used as another holiday to look for bargains in stores, Bell said. It should be a time for reflection about liberty, as well as for celebration and family strengthening.

“It’s a time for optimism and joy,” Bell said.

The Elegba Folklore Society broadcasted its Juneteenth event online this year due to the coronavirus. Although there were still around 7,000 views, Bell said that it is usually much larger and has international influence.

Cries for police reform and social justice continue to increase, Bell said. More attention is being drawn to the racial disparities across America. With this, people have been changing their priorities concerning issues such as discrimination.

“This was a step towards equity,” Bell said about the bill. “A symbolic step, but a step nonetheless.”

State workers will be off during Juneteenth. If the job requires individuals to come in to work, then they will be compensated with overtime or extra pay, said Sen. Jennifer McClellan, D-Richmond, a patron for the bill.

The General Assembly wrapped up the agenda last week for the special session that began Aug. 18. Northam called the session to update the state budget and to address criminal and social justice reform and issues related to COVID-19.

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Community

Suspect Sought in Theft from Broad Street Building

It’s not stated by RPD but based on Tweets earlier this week we believe this is Mayor Stoney’s re-election headquarters.

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From RPD:

Richmond Police detectives are asking for the public’s help to identify the individual in the attached photos who is suspected of stealing from a building on West Broad Street on Monday.

During the early morning hours on Monday, October 12, the suspect entered the building in the 2600 block of W. Broad Street and stole a large television from the common area. The suspect was last seen heading west on Broad Street with the TV.

Anyone with information about the identity of this suspect is asked to call Fourth Precinct Detective K.L.  Robinson at (804) 646-6820 or contact Crime Stoppers at (804) 780-1000 or at www.7801000.com.  The P3 Tips Crime Stoppers app for smartphones may also be used.  All Crime Stoppers methods are anonymous.

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