Norfolk mayor vows to change the course of history for minorities


NORFOLK, Va. (WAVY) — “Shocking” and “shameful” are the words the mayor of Norfolk uses to describe the horrific scene that unfolded on a Minneapolis street when a man accused of passing a counterfeit $20 bill died after a police officer used excessive force.

In the aftermath of George Floyd’s death, Mayor Kenneth Alexander, the city’s first elected black mayor, says it’s time for Norfolk to correct centuries of racial disparities that continue to haunt residents today.

Norfolk, Alexander’s home town, has its own history of shameful racist policies, practices, and symbols. Massive resistance shut down the school system, the poll tax was struck down by the Supreme Court, and a confederate flag that was once on display in City Council chambers. Generations continue to suffer because of institutionalized racism, Alexander says.

“One in five residents in Norfolk live in poverty — however in the African-American community it’s much higher — 67 percent of our kids in Norfolk Public Schools are on free or reduced lunch,” Alexander said.

To peel away the decades of despair, Alexander has announced the formation of the Mayor’s Commission on Social Equity and Economic Opportunity. Each member of the City Council will recruit a resident from his or her district to help city hall identify opportunities for job training, disparities in education and criminal justice reform

“We must deal with the poverty — the unemployment, the lack of opportunity for poor and marginalized people in our community,” said Alexander.

Alexander says the policies, practices, and symbols must go. Johnny Reb, the confederate statue on display in Norfolk since 1907 could be removed by early August.

Alexander says the council, after July 1, will pass another resolution calling for the removal of the monument. He says if an organization, such as a museum or the United Daughters of the Confederacy wants it, then the organization can have it.

“We will donate it, give it to them. We will pass another resolution moving it to a cemetery or a park owned by the city. We will advertise that it’s available and if there are no takers then we will move with plan B and that is to relocate it to a cemetery or park,” said Alexander.

Earlier, the Downtown Norfolk Council announced it will no longer remove graffiti and items that have been used to deface the monument. The organization also called for the removal of the Johnny Reb statue.

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