Local responses on death of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor

Virginia

FILE – This undated file photo provided by Christopher Harris shows George Floyd. Floyd died May 25, after he was pinned to the pavement by a police officer who put his knee on the handcuffed black man’s neck until he stopped breathing. (Christopher Harris via AP, File)

HAMPTON ROADS, Va. (WAVY) — Protests are continuing across the country in the wake of the deaths of several black Americans, including George Floyd in Minneapolis, Ahmaud Arbery in Georgia, and Breonna Taylor in Louisville.

Here are some statements released by agencies and officials in Hampton Roads and Eastern Virginia:

Newport News Shipbuilding President Jennifer Boykin

Since becoming president of Newport News Shipbuilding, I made a promise to communicate with you in a timely and transparent way, and to not shy away from addressing tough issues as they arise. Many of you, rightfully so, have been surprised by my silence this week when there is so much civil unrest happening across our nation with clear impact in our own local community.

As I’ve watched recent events unfold across America, I’ve struggled with the right words to express my sadness as a human being, as an American, and as your leader.

What’s happening today isn’t just a story on the national news. It is something that affects us all and shapes our perspectives. While I will never have the answers or a simple solution to the pain so many people feel right now, I want to make it abundantly clear that Newport News Shipbuilding values respect, diversity and civility in every way.

Our shipyard is a small city – 25,000 strong. And we are a melting pot of diversity. For 134 years, shipbuilders from different cultural, racial and ethnic backgrounds have come together for a shared purpose: to build the greatest ships in the world. But our ships alone do not define us. Our people, who continue to build great ships, define who we are.

My message today is about humanity.

As we continue to grapple with the conflicts our country is facing, let’s compassionately and constructively, respectfully and civilly, share our personal stories, perspectives and concerns. Listen to one another with an open mind, and treat each other as we want to be treated. It is through shared compassion, respect and empathy that we build a culture of mutual trust and mutual respect where all feel safe to speak up. This is fundamental to our future as a society and as a business.

Our strength is our diversity, and our resolve is needed now more than ever. Know that you are coming to work at a company that values fairness, respect and equal treatment for all. I ask for your help to continue building a culture of inclusion where treating each other with respect, dignity and compassion is the norm.

If you’re struggling, know that you are not alone. If you or anyone on your team needs to talk, please speak up to your leadership. And remember, we have the HERO program (hiihero.com using access code Huntington Ingalls) as a resource for those who want additional support.

City of Williamsburg Statement

The Williamsburg City Council and City staff, like most across the country and the world, were shocked and appalled at the events surrounding the tragic death of George Floyd at the hands of those sworn to protect him. Sadly, we fully acknowledge that this is not an isolated incident; rather, it is one more in a seemingly ongoing stream of incomprehensible examples of excessive, unwarranted, force delivered disproportionately upon people of color. Furthermore, we condemn the injustices in the tragic circumstances surrounding his death, as well as those of Breonna Taylor and Ahmaud Arbery. We also recognize that similar situations most likely occur outside of the realm of public awareness and scrutiny, so the problem is undoubtedly far more widespread than any of us can know.

We are a small City and do not have a large voice in the national conversation concerning fair treatment, but we have a civic duty, a moral obligation, and a commitment to do our part. In Williamsburg, because of our focus on the lessons of history, we understand and recognize the origins of the painful legacy of our past as it relates to centuries of abhorrent enslavement and the subsequent generations of pervasive inequity and disadvantage faced by so many. Acknowledging that stain and coming to grips with its impact can help us better see a path forward. We also want to reaffirm for each and every member of our community our respect for you as individuals and our value of you as friends and neighbors. Our primary goal is to look out for your health, safety, and welfare, regardless of who you are

Real questions must be asked about what our nation stands for, and then what we as organizations and individuals can do to uphold that. We cannot afford to tolerate or turn a blind eye to these senseless acts of violence and discrimination. Similarly, we must also fight against the less obvious, but no less insidious, behaviors that passively persecute others. Recent events reinforce the urgency for us, as a City Council and a City Government, to recommit to our core values and mission. We must stand up, stand firm, and stand together to embrace diversity. In no way can we accept or allow the subjugation of any group. If we fail to defend the defenseless, we become complicit in the act of abuse. Consequently, we are committed to breaking down the walls that divide us and looking for opportunities for mutual enrichment and strengthening by coming together.

One overarching point is clear—our society must change. Change is difficult in general, but especially so when it involves staring down institutional bias and ingrained behaviors. It won’t be easy, and it will take time, but we absolutely must make a determined effort now to see it through. If we don’t start, we cannot ever finish. We feel change starts with our own leadership, including how we hire and select employees, how we train new employees, how we distribute work and conduct assignments, how we promote and reward employees, and every single day setting the tone for what is and what is not acceptable and appropriate.

We are also committed as stalwart supporters of our public safety personnel, including our police department. They, too, are valued members of our community. They train and work hard for our benefit. They sacrifice time from their families to work around the clock. They risk their lives to look after us. We ask much of them, and for that they have our enduring gratitude and respect. We also demand that they behave at an incredibly high level of professionalism. Should any member of our Police team fall short of our expectations in an egregious manner, we are committed to hold them swiftly accountable through a fair and objective evaluation of the circumstances they may have faced, but we will never allow willful or incompetent dereliction of duty to cast a cloud across the strong reputation of the incredible women and men of the WPD.

There are many examples as to how our Police show their commitment to fair and just enforcement. While an exhaustive list may not be desirable here, we will be happy to share such a list with any interested parties. Three specific examples are worth highlighting. Through community policing, our officers are engaging with our various neighborhoods and community members by interacting with them regularly and directly. They wear body cameras to provide accurate and objective records of enforcement encounters. They all fulfill the requirement to complete verbal de-escalation training and crisis intervention training. These training programs focus on using enhanced verbal skills and appropriate body language to resolve issues with the least force possible. These efforts alone do not guarantee a peaceful outcome in every difficult circumstance, but they do have the potential to have an inordinate impact on situations of conflict.

We do not pretend to have the answers to every question that needs asking, because no one does. But that absolutely will not deter us from meeting those questions head-on. That is why we look forward to developing a process to engage our community in a larger conversation about how we, together, can make progress towards shared solutions. At the same time, we will involve our strategic institutional partners in order to amplify the impact of our efforts across all areas of our community. Along the way it is possible that we may make mistakes and/or hit roadblocks, but in no way will those obstacles deter us from our charge. We have some tough conversations ahead and we ask all members of the community to join us in finding shared solutions. Perhaps through such grassroots efforts, we can begin to effect the healing change that our nation so desperately needs and that our community so dearly desires.

William and Mary Police | Chief Cheesebro

“Several of you have contacted me directly regarding the trauma and disappointment you are feeling about the recent deaths of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery and Breonna Taylor. I appreciate you reaching out.

Over the last few years, WMPD has worked closely with members of the Student Assembly to prioritize and deliver proper police services for our students. I welcome student input on any issue, whether it is about strategies, equipment, training, communication or other areas.

It is difficult to formulate a message that adequately addresses the events of last week. What I saw of officers restraining Mr. Floyd was unconscionable.

After 40 years in law enforcement, it is heartbreaking to see these types of excessive force incidents still occurring and discouraging to see the impacts of rage across the country. I understand the outcry and the trauma. I share your anger for the needless loss of life.

This department will not condone excessive force. My direction to our department will always be bias-free policing. Officers are expected to treat everyone with dignity, courtesy and respect. I will stand for no less.

“Professional” is a word many claim, but far fewer deserve. It is not just about training, equipment, or looking good in uniform. It is about having the right heart as you go about your craft. It is about applying your knowledge and skills in a bias-free manner, and in fact, in a way that promotes inclusivity. Our officers will continue to rely on our values as a department and use our training and teamwork to keep you and others safe in our community.

While there are instances where police do need to restrain someone, there is a right way for this to be done. The videos of Mr. Floyd’s arrest showed unwarranted, excessive force. It is long past due for these injustices to stop. It is critical that all police stay focused on doing the right thing, and that includes condemning these blatant violations of human rights.

Sometimes I am asked about WMPD’s policing philosophy, where values drive our approach and decisions. We have a mission much broader than enforcing laws. We also focus on community. And in enforcing the law we strive to do so with good intent and sensitivity. WMPD needs to model the right way, every day. And in the event we make a mistake, we need to acknowledge that and work to improve.

As we plan ahead for the coming semester, we will continue our partnership with Student Assembly and plan more formal opportunities for your input as well so we can listen to your comments, suggestions and concerns. I will also continue to meet with individual students and student groups by appointment and invitation. My door is always open.

This fall I will also hold monthly, open Q&A sessions where we can answer your questions, hear your concerns and share updates on WMPD activities. We will continue our strong partnerships with the Williamsburg Police Department, James City County Police Department, Virginia State Police, York County Sheriff’s Office, and the Commonwealth Attorney’s Office. All of these agency officials are committed to providing professional, fair and unbiased services. We will invite these partners to the Q&A open sessions and other fora.

I am always in pursuit of better policing. I think we can continue that process together.”

Norfolk Mayor Kenneth Alexander

“In the wake of recent tragedies involving police brutality and racially motivated violence, let’s continue to have our actions speak to positively to the memory of those who have been tragically lost.  Police brutality and hate crimes must stop and they will not find safe harbor in today’s Norfolk. For 338 years, Norfolk has struggled with its own history of human bondage, hate, racially motivated crime and violence, structural inequality, and poverty. 

We have determined that the continued success of our city will be determined by our ability to recognize our legacy of injustice, atone and appreciate everyone’s humanity, and begin the long process of healing together.  Our continued growth and evolution as a modern city will always demand this. 

Norfolk is by no means perfect, but we will continue to strive to be just especially in the administration of public safety.  I want to recognize the Norfolk Police Department for being responsive, upholding their duty to protect every citizen and hearing citizens’ concerns. We are all learning from the protests that have occurred and hope that they will continue in a manner that honors the lives of those we have lost to injustice and hate.  

Let’s keep engaging one another, let’s remain in peaceful dialogue with one another, and let’s keep learning from one another.

To examine, evaluate and discuss disparities in health, housing, education, employment, and economic opportunity and well-being among Norfolk’s residents, I am forming a Mayor’s Commission on Social Equity and Economic Opportunity.  This commission should address historical and persistent issues that have impacted access and opportunity for Norfolk’s residents, while examining social and economic anxiety, and creating a true bridge that should connect Norfolk’s various communities.  

There will be a focus on wealth building, employment and job training, disparities in educational opportunity and attainment, access to technology, criminal justice reform and Norfolk’s continued commitment to community based public safety.  This committee should be careful to avoid symbolic gestures of reconciliation.  I have asked Councilwoman Andria McClellan to serve as vice-chair and each member of council is to recommend an individual from the community to serve.”

Virginia Beach Superintendent Dr. Aaron Spence

I’d like to take a moment to address some of the events affecting us locally, nationally and globally.

Imagine viewing the world from a young person’s perspective right now. Not only is the human race suffering the ravages of a health crisis, but we’re now also witnessing the pain and anger over generations of racism and hatred laid bare in the streets of our cities and neighborhoods. It is impossible to shake the images of prejudice, injustice and violence that populate social media feeds and flash across our screens. It is deeply distressing for so many of us, but I worry principally for our students—and especially for our Black students—because we know our youngest citizens do not yet have the ability to put these sounds and photos and words into any kind of context.

The events happening in our country are painful, and they are igniting a call to action. I do not pretend to have a full comprehension of what our Black families are feeling right now, but please know we stand with you in this moment. And to that end, I know we can and must do more regarding equity and anti-racism work. We can show up every day to this work with empathy. We can be introspective and reflective and open to understanding our blind spots. We can and must continue to condemn racism and injustice and work to disrupt it where it exists. And as the leader of the largest school division in Hampton Roads, I can embolden our educators and community members to do the same. We must champion equity in our every decision and action. We can and must be models of respect and kindness for our students, and we can and must provide a meaningful and inclusive educational experience for every single child in our schools. It is my job to make sure we have the tools to do so.

Most pressingly, we have to help our children make sense of what is happening right now and give them hope for their future. We have put together a list of resources that can help with engaging them in conversations about race and conflict. Our school librarians have also compiled a list of age-appropriate books that may also assist with working through and answering questions about difficult issues.

Yet clearly, that’s not enough. While, yes, we are tasked with educating the children of Virginia Beach, I am also resolved to more action within our community. So I am asking myself some hard questions right now. Can this be the moment in our history that we effect real change? How do we alleviate this pain and suffering caused by the pervasive and systemic racism that has always been and remains a part of our nation’s history? We cannot just leave it to the next generations to fix. We cannot doom our children to this history that keeps repeating and repeating itself.

With this in mind, our VBCPS Equity Council, made up of community members and stakeholders from across the division, will continue to meet and develop effective ways to get the entire community involved in this work and to come up with targeted strategies and actions to support our families. To get this conversation moving, you are invited to a virtual community conversation, How to Talk About Equity, Race and Recent Events, next Tuesday, June 9, at 5 p.m., featuring a panel of leaders in equity work that will be moderated by Barbara Hamm Lee. I hope you will join us in this conversation.

These past months have been so very trying and tiring. Not only have you had to become teachers overnight, but you’ve been expected to be experts in everything from math to history to conflict resolution. In the face of all of this, we’ve learned the most important thing we can do for our children is to make sure they know they are loved and cared for. That’s more important now than ever. We must listen to them when they are frightened, confused or in need of our direction and advice.

Together, with love, with compassion and empathy and respect for one another, I know we can make our community stronger and our world a better and more hopeful place for our children. As we move ahead, I ask you to take care of yourselves and take care of each other.

United Way of South Hampton Roads

We at United Way of South Hampton Roads are heartbroken by the tragic events of this past week, and we firmly stand in solidarity with all who seek a more just and equitable society.

Our mission is to bring people and resources together to solve problems too big for any of us to solve alone. We do this work in order to lift our entire community and serve as a voice for the unheard. Unfortunately, as we’ve observed throughout our nation’s history and have been reminded of most recently in the wake of George Floyd’s death, race holds a central place in our society’s deepest and most persistent challenges.

Systemic and structural barriers for people of color continue to stand in the way of our ability to achieve our mission.

For this very reason, United Way of South Hampton Roads will continue to incorporate an equity and inclusion lens in every facet of our work. In order to strengthen the social fabric of our community, we are advancing equitable opportunities through our collaborations, fundraising and grantmaking. Our aim is to help lead the lasting and transformational changes needed in policies and practices. We prioritize this work so that all our neighbors, businesses and institutions have what they need to succeed and thrive.

ODU Vice President Sanderlin and Interim Vice President Stansberry

Old Dominion University remains committed to diversity, equity and inclusive excellence. These values form the pillars of our campus community.

We are outraged at the senseless deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and Ahmaud Arbery. The recent horrific events mirroring systemic racism make it woefully apparent that there is much work to do towards promoting equity for all. 

We echo the words expressed by President Broderick on Friday: “As a diverse and inclusive campus, we must continue to do our collective best to demonstrate for the world that at ODU we strive to learn from differences leading to a greater understanding of one another.”

To this end, the Office of Institutional Equity and Diversity, the Division of Student Engagement and Enrollment Services and the President’s Task Force on Inclusive Excellence are partnering to host learning events, webinars and virtual forums throughout the summer and fall to equip our faculty, students and staff to engage in meaningful dialogue and take constructive action to address these pressing societal issues.

It is important that we provide tools, resources, protocols and opportunities that will assist in guiding conversations that support freedom of diverse expression, while promoting social justice for all. These engaging opportunities will assist members of the Monarch Nation to be advocates and allies for groups of people who have felt invisible and marginalized.

Soon you will receive “save the dates” for these programs. We are counting on your participation and support.

United States Attorney G. Zachary Terwilliger, Eastern District of Virginia

These have been difficult and challenging times over the past 10 weeks due first to a pervasive pandemic and now as a result of great societal unrest. We witnessed the harrowing and disturbing video images of the death of George Floyd. We watched many peaceful protestors exercise their constitutional rights to protest legitimate grievances. And while it should be a time for the nation to grieve, scream, pray, shake with anger, reconcile, and heal, some have turned to violence, destruction, arson, assault, and domestic terrorism.

Many individuals gathering to protest in the Eastern District have done so peacefully. Unfortunately, there are some individuals who seek to actively undermine the efforts of peaceful protestors by inciting violence and destroying the very physical and figurative sinew of local communities of which they are not members.

Following the decisive leadership of Attorney General Barr, we will utilize the existing framework of the Joint Terrorism Task Force model to identify, apprehend and prosecute anyone who uses the guise of protest to incite violence and violate federal laws.

As always, we stand ready to support our federal, state, and local law enforcement officers who bravely put themselves in harm’s way to ensure citizens across the Commonwealth can safely exercise their First Amendment rights.

Port of Virginia

The tension surrounding George Floyd’s murder and the nationwide demonstrations and protests have helped many of us confront the realities of the systemic racist practices and injustice that have been part of the daily lives of Black Americans.

We, the colleagues of The Port of Virginia, remain committed to our values and to each other, and we stand together in solidarity with the Black community in the fight against a centuries-old pattern of violence and suppression.

We know there is still much work to be done. We must all have open, honest, and compassionate dialogue with each other and be open to listening and learning if we expect to see any positive changes.

BlackLivesMatter #WeStandTogether

WJCC Commonwealth’s Attorney Nathan Green

“As the elected Commonwealth’s Attorney for the City of Williamsburg and the County of James City, I stand with the other prosecutors throughout Virginia in condemning the brutal, senseless, and inexcusable killing of George Floyd. Mr. Floyd’s death at the hands of a police officer, sworn to protect and serve all citizens, strikes at the heart of our mission as prosecutors to treat all people as equal and to see that justice is served.

Racism, bigotry, and prejudice are deplorable in any form. These evils are particularly intolerable when they interfere with a citizen’s God given right to life and liberty. This office rejects the use of unnecessary force by law enforcement officers against any member of our community. I reaffirm our commitment to pursuing the zealous prosecution and punishment for those who would abuse their status as law-enforcement officers to humiliate, hurt, and kill.

Our paramount duty as prosecutors is to keep our fellow citizens safe from harm and to punish, through the rule of law, those who harm them. We share that duty with the hard-working, self-sacrificing law-enforcement officers of this community who risk their lives to protect our citizens and who must carry the burden of making amends for the abuses not of their making, but of the worst among them.

To my fellow citizens who have peacefully protested, I share your grief and anger. I recognize that the killing of George Floyd is but the latest unnecessary killing of a black person while under state control. I commit this office to have honest conversations with our law-enforcement agencies and our communities to ensure that we are not just policing but that we are policing in a manner that is truly intended to protect and serve each and every one of our citizens.

‘The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.’ – Edmund Burke

I promise that under my leadership this office will redouble its efforts to apply the law fairly to all people, to root out implicit and explicit bias in our ranks, to balance consistency with empathy and to advocate for positive meaningful change to our criminal justice system where needed.”

Hampton University President Dr. William R. Harvey

The current state of affairs in our nation today saddens and enrages me. Equal justice under the law is a cornerstone of liberty, but this was not the case with Mr. George Floyd. He was murdered by a white Minneapolis policeman who put his knee on Mr. Floyd’s neck until he died. The policeman in question and those who stood around and watched this crime being committed have now been arrested, but should have been arrested immediately. It is my hope that they will all be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.

As president of Hampton University and one who witnessed and participated in the Civil Rights Movement of the 1950’s and 1960’s, I am pleased to see those who have initiated peaceful protests expressing their concerns about police brutality, particularly towards African Americans. During the late 1950’s and 1960’s, I participated in marches and other peaceful protests that were led by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. I was also the vice-president of a statewide student Civil Rights organization.

My father was a building contractor and Civil Rights leader. Therefore, our household was one of those homes that was a meeting place for the local organizations. It also served as a rest stop for out of town travelers who could not use public accommodations because of the racism of the time. For those travelers, most of these visits occurred on the weekends and might include a meal, a glass of tea or lemonade, a nap on the living room sofa, or an overnight stay. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. visited several times although I do not recall him spending the night. His brother Rev. A. D. King was a frequent visitor and overnight guest. Their visits always included interesting conversations. I shall forever be indebted to my father for allowing me to sit in on some of those meetings. He gave me permission to be present with the proviso that I could not ask a question, venture an opinion, or otherwise speak. As he would say, “You are to listen and learn.”

In these meetings, there were conversations about successes, failures, problems, promises, and plans for progress in the Civil Rights Movement. Some of the attendees urged the abandonment of peaceful demonstrations and encouraged violent responses that matched the batons, bullets, hoses, and dogs used by police against us. Dr. King spoke out strongly against the use of these tactics. He felt that it would hurt our cause, and he was proven right. In that same vein, I think that our cause is hurt today when we focus more on retaliation and less on seeking police reform and justice.

While peaceful protestors rally to make their voices heard, the violence, looting, and destruction of property are not the solution. These acts hinder the cause of justice that so many are seeking. Peaceful demonstration is a part of African American history, but engaging in the above-mentioned acts hurts our cause. To be sure, there will be criticism for those of us who believe in peaceful protest to achieve desired goals and objectives.

I do not have all of the answers, but three specific thoughts come to mind. First, now is the time for us to again come together in our homes and churches to have conversations about how we can move forward as a people and as a nation to end police brutality against African Americans. Secondly, every municipality in the country should establish a colloquium board to facilitate dialogue between representatives of the police and the African American community to include ministers, educators, organizational leaders, and other citizens of good-will. Thirdly, every state and local police academy as well as other providers of law enforcement officers should establish a mandatory class on policing in the African American community.

While I cannot claim to know all of the answers to these problems nor the timeline for resolution, I do know that nothing can be accomplished unless we work together for the betterment of ourselves, our communities, and our nation. Until this happens, justice will not served. All of us must understand the immorality of racism as we support the victims of racial discrimination.

City of Virginia Beach

Click here to read the city’s full open letter to citizens on the death of George Floyd.


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