Supervisors Condemn Systemic Racism; Deaths of Floyd and Brooks

Photos of the Black Lives Matter protest were taken by Sharen Montgomery.

By Heather Michon

Emotions ran high Wednesday night (June 17) as Fluvanna supervisors debated the specific language for a resolution condemning systemic racism and police violence against people of color, including the recent high-profile killings of George Floyd and Rayshard Brooks.

An earlier version of the resolution was presented by Supervisor Mozell Booker (Fork Union) at an online discussion hosted by the Fluvanna NAACP on June 7. Because the statement only “inferred we were talking about Black Lives Matter,” said Booker, some people felt it was insufficient. “I understand from the community and from the people, they just want stronger words to identify what we are talking about.”

County Administrator Eric Dahl ran through a modified version of the original resolution and a second draft pieced together by county staff from comments submitted by the public. Both documents included more specific language, including a line suggested by Fluvanna NAACP head Ben Hudson condemning “racism and oppression of people of color in our county,” and a new clause acknowledging the impact of systemic racism on the health, education, and rights of black Americans.

New wording also committed the Board of Supervisors to engage the community “in constructive, honest, and substantive dialog” and eliminate racial barriers in county policies.

Death versus murder

The discussion grew a bit more heated over Supervisor Tony O’Brien’s request that George Floyd’s death specifically be termed “murder.”

On seeing the video of the May 25 incident in Minneapolis “my first reaction was: “this man was murdered,” he said.

“I think that’s our first reaction, but until they’re convinced, it’s not murder,” Chair Mike Sheridan (Columbia) replied, adding “it’s an awful, atrocious thing, it absolutely was.”

“But it wasn’t deliberate,” Supervisor Donald Weaver (Cunningham) interjected.

“If you stand on somebody’s neck for nine minutes, there’s something deliberate to that,” said O’Brien.

“But I don’t know they meant to kill him. I mean, how do we know that?” Weaver replied.

As the discussion continued, Mrs. Booker, who was calling in to the meeting from home, was having trouble hearing the comments. Sheridan synopsized the divide between O’Brien’s position and his own, which was that no judge or jury had yet weighed in. “I think that’s why the sheriff used the word ‘death’ in his statement,” he said.

O’Brien interjected that judges and juries had decided people who had been lynched had not been murdered.

“And how long ago was that?” said Sheridan.

“There are cases all the time where institutionalized racism has resulted in people walking away with murder,” countered O’Brien. “There were two lynchings last week. Two black people hung in the United States last week,” referring to two cases under investigation in California. One has since been found to be a probable suicide.

“And there were ten people killed over the last several weeks also, in these riots,” Weaver said.

The back-and-forth went on for several minutes before Sheridan asked if there was “anyone else who would like to change it to ‘murder?’”

Over the cross-talk between members, Booker was unequivocal. “He was murdered, people. Why are we playing around?” she asked. “I don’t think we’re going to have to go before a judge or jury.”

However, Sheridan, Weaver, and Supervisor Patricia Eager (Palmyra) all preferred ‘death’ as the verbiage.

Committing to transparency

While the supervisors generally avoid stating political views but, reminiscent of the discussions surrounding the “Second Amendment Sanctuary” issue late last year, the hour-long debate over this resolution inevitably touched their different perspectives on the social and political issues of the moment.   

As they worked to reconcile four different drafts of the resolution, Sheridan and O’Brien exchanged sharp words.

“We can make this thing eight pages long,” Sheridan said as they debated clauses committing to transparency.

“You know what, we spent two days and, like, ten hours listening to people talking about their Second Amendment rights. I’m getting tired of this being like a big drag.” O’Brien responded. “This is a big deal to a lot of people in our community right now.”

“I’m not downplaying this, Mr. O’Brien. Don’t raise your voice with me,” Sheridan said sharply, arguing that he was not rushing the process and had shown a commitment to transparency in county government during his tenure.

The final version of the resolution added the name of Rayshard Brooks, killed in an encounter with Atlanta police on June 12. It also added clauses committing to transparency in making public the racial demographics of encounters between the sheriff’s office and individuals, and working towards a more inclusive county government.

When it was complete, Booker made the motion to approve the resolution, which was seconded by Eager.

The motion passed unanimously.

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