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House bill would reverse law limiting minor traffic stops

A Senate committee could debate a bill that would reverse a policing law intended to reduce racial profiling.

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By Josephine Walker

A Senate committee could debate a bill that would reverse a policing law intended to reduce racial profiling.

The General Assembly in 2020 passed a law along party lines to end pretextual policing, or the practice of stopping someone for a minor traffic violation. Such traffic stops are made for broken tail lights, tinted windows, or objects hanging from the rearview mirror. The law also bans police from searching a vehicle based on the smell of marijuana.

These stops often lead to officers conducting investigations unrelated to the reason for the stop, according to the criminal justice reform group Justice Forward Virginia.

Del. Ronnie Campbell, R-Rockbridge, introduced House Bill 79. He said in a House committee meeting that the bill would make Virginians safer. For example, the bill would prevent people from driving with broken tail lights, which can cause accidents. He also said the legislation could lead police to catch fugitives, including serial killers. He listed a few high-profile killers who were apprehended over the years — outside of Virginia — during stops for minor traffic offenses.

“You never really know who you’re stopping or what you’re gonna get,” Campbell said.

Breanne Armbrust is the executive director of the Neighborhood Resource Center of Greater Fulton, a nonprofit that seeks to provide educational, cultural and nutrition benefits in Richmond’s East End.

Armbrust said data doesn’t show serial killers are pulled over. However, pretextual policing has disproportionately impacted Richmond’s Fulton neighborhood residents, she said.

“These types of stops lead to more engagement with law enforcement, which makes it challenging for everybody that’s involved,” Armbrust said.

Black people accounted for 31% of the drivers pulled over for minor traffic offenses from July 2020 to December 2021, according to data collected through the Community Policing Act. Black people over the age of 18 account for 18% of Virginia’s population over the age of 18, based on census data, though not all of the population drive.

Brad Haywood, executive director of criminal justice reform group Justice Forward, questioned how the assumption is that Black people are worse drivers than white people.

“Like is that really the argument? It’s just absurd,” Haywood said.

Sipiwe West, a North Carolina resident, was pulled over in the late ’90s. She was driving with family through Virginia on Interstate 85 to attend a funeral.

The reason for the traffic stop was an air freshener hanging in her rearview mirror, she said. The family was asked to exit the vehicle and was questioned about their intention and destination, according to West.

“If you ride more than one Black person in a car, you’re probably going to get pulled over, especially if you are young,” West said, who was in her early 20s at the time. She said it was terrible to be profiled for being Black.

“It’s not like everyone else you know … you get pulled over and it’s like ‘OK, I was freaking speeding, let me get a ticket or something like that,’” West said. “This is: ‘Oh, my God. I’m gonna get pulled over. What the hell is possibly going to jump off from this situation?’”

West said the interstate she was traveling on was frequently used to transfer drugs. She was alarmed but not surprised that officers made her family go through that situation — and on top of an already tough period of their lives.

Chelsea Higgs Wise, executive director for the social equity group Marijuana Justice, said pretextual policing around the presumed presence of drugs is racist.

 “The police are legally allowed to target us based on the color of our skin,” Higgs Wise said. “We have to continue to circle back to the data and to what we know about history, and why these laws were set in the first place.”

Farnad Darnell is a technician at an HIV clinic who used to work in Northern Virginia and live in Maryland. Darnell said he’s been pulled over multiple times for traffic offenses.

“Since then, I don’t go into Virginia, except to see my sister who’s down in the Newport News area,” Darnell said. “I’d maybe go down there a couple of times a year at most, for those very reasons now, because I didn’t want to get pulled over.”

Darnell said he doesn’t feel less safe on the road due to his past experiences with the police but rather more aware of his driving. He goes out of his way to plan trips that allow him to avoid areas with excessive policing.

Minor traffic stops should be brought back as primary offenses because law enforcement have said their “hands are tied,” Campbell said.

The bill was assigned to the Senate Judiciary Committee. Sen. Louise Lucas, D-Portsmouth, president pro tempore of the Senate, stated on Twitter that “we will be taking a close look at what came from the House and making sure it doesn’t roll back our recent progress.”

Lucas, along with Del. Patrick Hope, D-Arlington, sponsored identical bills in 2020 which ended minor traffic offenses. Democratic lawmakers were met with Republican opposition at the time but had the majority votes to get the bills through each chamber.

The bills passed as part of a legislative agenda focused on criminal justice and police reform after the murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis. Republicans campaigned heavily last year on the message that they would support law enforcement and that Democrats had been soft on crime.

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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.

Community

Bike the Holiday Lights

BASKET & BIKE and RVA on Wheels want to share the joy of bike riding in the city during this festive time of year.

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From now until January 8th there is a unique way to check out the holiday lights in Richmond. BASKET & BIKE and RVA on Wheels have teamed up to provide Richmond with a variety of tour experiences and rentals on wheels, and they will serve as your go-to place to test and purchase your new classic or electric bike, along with all the gear to outfit your bike style.

We’ll bike Downtown Richmond while the sun’s still out to stay warm! Chase the sunset with us on the avenues and bike lanes for a seasonal ride on classic or electric wheels. As dusk approaches, pass through holiday lights downtown where your tour ends with a voucher for a beverage (wine, beer, tea, coffee) at neighbors, Urban Farmhouse.

BASKET & BIKE Classic Bike $95
RVA on Wheels Electric Bike $125
Starts and Ends at 1301 E. Cary St.
Website and more Info

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Community

Street Closures for RVA Illuminates

Street closures on East Canal Street, South 7th Street and South 8th Street are already in place.

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Downtown

Missing context, political bias: Some of critics’ objections to Virginia’s new history standards

A number of groups are questioning new history and social science standards proposed by Gov. Glenn Youngkin’s administration ahead of a Board of Education meeting to begin reviewing them Thursday.

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A number of groups are questioning new history and social science standards proposed by Gov. Glenn Youngkin’s administration ahead of a Board of Education meeting to begin reviewing them Thursday.

Critics from diverse communities and lawmakers, most recently in a Nov. 15 letter to the governor and school officials, argue the new standards are missing influential figures and events and voice concern about what they say is a lack of transparency regarding who authored the changes.

The standards will set Virginia’s expectations for student learning in history and social science, which are assessed through the Standards of Learning tests. The Board of Education delayed its first review after Superintendent Jillian Balow requested additional time to correct errors, reorder guidance and allow additional experts to weigh in on the draft.

“Continued review and edits to the standards over the past several months have strengthened the content at each grade level,” wrote Balow in a Nov. 10 letter to the Board of Education. “The edits honor the work done previously by Virginians, and national and state experts.”

Balow also said in her letter that draft curriculum frameworks, which are guides for teachers, will be published later.

However, critics in the Nov. 15 letter said the curriculum frameworks missing from the standards make it “impossible for anybody to effectively evaluate the draft as a whole.”

Among the letter’s signatories are 10 Democratic lawmakers and groups including the Virginia Education Association, the nonprofit Hamkae Center, which describes itself as organizing “Asian Americans to achieve social, economic, and racial justice in Virginia,” the Fairfax County NAACP and the Sikh Coalition. The Virginia Education Association referred inquiries to the Hamkae Center.

They also questioned the number of “problematic content changes that fail to reflect the concerns of our diverse communities” and the involvement of groups such as the Michigan based-Hillsdale College in the review of the standards.

Balow said last month that representatives from other colleges expressed interest in commenting on the draft standards after VPM reported that she was working with the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, a conservative educational think tank, to develop the standards.

Here are a few objections to the proposed new standards that educational and other groups have raised.

Missing context

Critics say parts of the new standards lack proper context.

For example, while the standards replace the term “Indian” with “Indigenous people” and require students to study aspects of the groups, they do not mention that Indigenous People’s Day replaced Columbus Day in 1992 because Indigenous people view Christopher Columbus as a colonizer rather than a discoverer.

Additionally, the standards recognize the development of slavery in colonial Virginia but lack an emphasis on the slave trade and tobacco plantations, critics say.

“Nazis” and “The Final Solution,” which are necessary to understand the Holocaust, are also missing from the standards.

“Content is crucial for understanding the Holocaust and other genocides,” said Gail Flax, a retired educator. “You have to know what happened before and what happened afterward to be able to analyze and contextualize history.”

Narrative

With the removal of historical figures and events, critics have questioned the narrative of history the administration is conveying to students.

Zowee Aquino of the Hamkae Center said the revisions reflect “pretty explicit political bias.” She said the standards also have a Eurocentric theme that focuses on European or Anglo-American ideas and disregards the contributions of ethnic minorities in white countries.

For example, the name of Martin Luther King Jr., a civil rights activist, was removed from the elementary school standards. King’s name first appears in the sixth grade standards.

Aquino said there’s no mention of Juneteenth, the Chinese Exclusion Act or Martin Luther King Jr. Day in any of the standards. China and the African civilization of Mali, which have been part of the standards for world culture studies, have also been removed from third grade standards.

The standards also do not include any mention of tribal sovereignty.

Sen. Jennifer McClellan, D-Richmond, said in a letter to the Board of Education that the revised draft deletes “major components of our history and deliberately omits the diverse perspectives that shape our commonwealth and our nation.”

For example, she wrote that the draft omits any discussion of the history or modern-day culture of the Latino community, Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders or the LGBTQ community.

“These decisions would mean that hundreds of thousands of Virginia children would not have the opportunity to learn about their community’s contributions to the fabric and history of our nation,” McClellan wrote. “And, all Virginia students would lack a fuller understanding of our country’s history.”

Rejected recommendations

The inclusion of King, the national holiday for the civil rights leader and Juneteenth marking the day when all enslaved Africans became free were several edits recommended by the Virginia Commission on African American History Education, but excluded or generalized in the redraft.

The list of edits excluded include the mention of John Mercer Langston, the first African American congressman from Virginia. The commission’s recommendation that the standards include the phrase that “not everyone was considered a citizen when our country began, and for a long time after that, even until today” was also excluded.

Mention of Indigenous people and their culture being affected by white European colonization was also excluded from the standards, as was the phrase “the Virginia Colony’s economy was greatly dependent upon temporary and permanent servitude.”

Historical errors and inaccuracies

Critics also say the proposed standards have historical errors and inaccuracies.

Specifically, students starting in the fourth grade are required to explain the reasons for the relocation of Virginia’s capital from Jamestown to Williamsburg as part of the Revolutionary War. However, an email from the Virginia Social Studies Leaders Consortium Monday said “this makes absolutely no sense” given Virginia’s capital was moved from Williamsburg to Richmond to provide greater protection against British attack.

Additionally, the group says the standards erroneously convey that Zachary Taylor, who was elected in 1848, was the most recent president from Virginia instead of Woodrow Wilson, who was elected in 1912.

The standards do not explicitly say which president was most recent. The document only states that students starting in the fourth grade will be required to explain the growth of a new America with an emphasis on the role of Virginians by explaining Virginia’s prominence in national leadership, emphasizing its eight presidents from Thomas Jefferson to Zachary Taylor.

“The previous version of the proposed standards did not contain egregious historical errors such as this because they were developed by a team of educators, division leaders and historians,” the consortium wrote.

Age appropriateness

Aquino also questioned whether the revisions are age appropriate.

For example, first and third graders must learn about the Code of Hammurabi, an ancient law text, and Roman emperor Marcus Aurelius, under the proposed history standards. She said the history is “pretty dense and intense” and includes details about capital punishment.

However, Charles Pyle, a spokesman with the Virginia Department of Education, said under the standards, first graders will learn where the first civilizations began and third graders will learn about democracy. He said Aurelius is part of a list of suggested examples of mythical and historical figures students could encounter as they “hear, read, and retell stories.”

Open access

With the focus on the amount of work demanded of teachers due to the workforce shortage, critics question a sentence in the preface of the history standards that states teachers should provide all of their instructional materials to parents.

Under the Board of Education’s current regulations, parents have the right to inspect instructional materials used as part of the educational curriculum for students.

Aquino said many reports link teacher burnout with increased work demands and argued another mandate does not help support students.

“It’s a huge task that the new administration is asking them to take on that doesn’t improve instruction,” Aquino said.

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