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Portsmouth mayor proposes committee to confront racism, bring people together

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PORTSMOUTH, Va. (WAVY) — Tackling racism head on — that’s the goal behind a new committee proposed by Portsmouth Mayor John Rowe.

This comes in the wake of an FBI investigation into allegations of systemic racism in the police department following the resignation of former police chief Tonya Chapman. The committee would be called the Portsmouth Cultural Harmony Committee and the mayor hopes it will bring diverse communities together to better understand each other.

Rowe is optimistic about the future of race relations in his city. 

“Portsmouth is a good place to live and we need to celebrate that. We have a bump in the road right now, but we can get past this,” he said. 

It’s been one month since former police chief Tonya Chapman stepped down from her post — she says she was forced out

Since then, claims of racism within the police department and in the community have left a mark on the city. 

“I don’t see that in my neighborhood, I live in a diverse neighborhood. I don’t see it in my church and I don’t see it on the streets,” Rowe said.

Still, Rowe wants to change others’ views by creating a cultural harmony committee. The committee’s purpose is to explore issues of race, ethnicity, equity and culture within the city. Rowe said it’s needed as the city moves forward.

“This is about creating a community that fosters diversity,” he said. 

The committee would be made up of 16-22 citizens, and they’d be tasked with making recommendations to the council to help create a community that’s inclusive of everyone. 

“We want to celebrate our diversity, and that we do not tolerate any type of racism at all,” Rowe said. 

Similar committees were formed back in the 90s, but they ultimately fell apart. So will this renewed effort be any different? Rowe thinks so, and he hopes it will be around permanently.

“This is generational. There are people who live in Portsmouth who were not here in the early 90s,” he said. “I think it’s important that we as a community have this.”

The committee would be given a $50,000 budget and meet quarterly with city leaders. Members would be appointed by city council, but Rowe hopes interested citizens will come forward. 

This proposal will be discussed Tuesday at the regular city council meeting. 

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