Richmond Residents Ready to Tackle Crime (NBC12 Coverage)

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Richmond residents came together to help tackle crime on the very day police identified the city’s latest homicide victim.

Police Chief Alfred Durham joined residents on the Northside on Wednesday as they discussed ways to combat crime. The event was sponsored by Northside Strong at 6 Point Innovation Center. It comes as the property manager from the scene of Richmond’s latest homicide is opening up about crime.

Crime tape and cop cars are not unusual at Midlothian Village Apartments. It was a familiar scene for tenants Tuesday night when someone gunned down 32-year-old Larry Scott.

“We went almost a full calendar year where we didn’t have any incidents on the property,” said Manager Cheyanne Williams.

Earlier this year, there was a double murder after someone shot an 18-year-old and a 20-year-old.

“Here we are six months later, and we have another incident on the property,” Williams said.

Williams is now fighting back — barring anyone who is arrested for a violent crime.

“We have over 800 people who are barred from the property,” she said.

As police search for the killer, neighbors on the Northside say they are witnessing the violence too.

“I don’t want it to become like, ‘Oh, there’s another killing in Richmond.’ It hurts, and it affects me,” a neighbor told the crowd.

“I’ve been threatened with guns. I’ve been threatened to have my house shot up and all of this,” another neighbor chimed in.

Radio Personality Miss Community Clovia listened to the feedback, so she can help cut crime.

“I have not become desensitized to it. I think we need to press harder in the community, and we just can’t leave it to law enforcement,” Miss Community Clovia said.

It’s why she’s on a mission to visit at least one barbershop a month, along with area politicians so they can hear what residents think will help. She strongly believes politicians are the key to help unlock a city with less crime.

“Absolutely! They want our vote Nov. 7. Hello!” she said emphatically.

Meantime, Midlothian Village has installed half a dozen additional cameras and extra lighting across the premises. Richmond Police has 24-7 access to the apartment’s surveillance video to help them catch and lock up criminals.
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Barbershop Talk at Indian Creek Correctional Center

Our commitment to fighting the opioid and drug epidemic in Virginia through our Barbershop Talk takes us sometimes behind the walls of jails and prisons. This visit to Indian Creek Correctional Center was an opportunity to share our message with the men at that Center, a Center dedicated to the treatment of prisoners with substance abuse issues. We thank Director Harold Clarke and his staff for the opportunity to share our message of hope, healing, and success with those group of men. This video tells the story in summary.

Oludare Ogunde, President

Former Felons Provide Guiding Voice Through Holiday Depression

Former felons provide guiding voice through holiday depression


Source: NBC12Source: NBC12

RICHMOND, VA (WWBT) –Holidays can be stressful, but for a certain population, this time of year can bring extra obstacles; depression, substance abuse, and criminal acts.

After serving their time behind bars, a group of Richmond men are using their first-hand experience to prevent others from going down the same path.

Oludare Ogunde, Jawad Abdu, and Jerry Lee sat down with Miss Community Clovia for her Community Conversations series to tackle holiday depression.

“Part of the holidays comes a lot of stress. People want to give their families whatever they want for the holiday season, but a lot of our family members can’t do it. That’s where the depression sets in, folks have issues with substance abuse disorders,” began Community Clovia as she spoke into the radio station microphone.

The stress, the drinking, the temptation, she went on, can all be triggers for those who may fall back into bad habits, especially concerning criminal activity.

“We’re trying to let them know that they matter,” added Jawad Abdu, who struggled with depression after being incarcerated. He sat aside Lee and Ogunde, who also have similar stories.

“When I was in prison, willing to learn how to give back,” said Lee, adding, “I’m thankful for the opportunity to return….return what I took away. I took a lot away from society for being a misguided influence in my community.”

Now he’s determined to be a positive guiding influence, and volunteers with the Department of Corrections.

“I go into prisons to help guys understand the process it takes to co-exist in this society we have been taken away from,” he explained.

All three men credit re-entry programs for their ability to return to life outside of prison, which they explain is not an easy course.

“If you want things to change, you’ve got to be part of the change,” added Community Clovia.

The radio show will air on Saturday on PraiseRichmond at 6 a.m., KissRichmond at 9 a.m. and Sunday on iPowerRichmond at 8 a.m.

Copyright 2016 WWBT NBC12. All rights reserved


Restoration of voting rights to former felons creates backlog for registrars

Thursday, April 28th 2016, 2:19 pm EDT
Thursday, April 28th 2016, 6:26 pm EDT
By Stephanie Robusto, ReporterCONNECT

As more than 200,000 former felons register to vote, Central Virginia registrars are facing challenges in processing their voter applications.

On April 22, Gov. Terry McAuliffe restored the rights of those with a prior felony conviction who have completed their sentences and have been released. The restoration of rights will allow them to have the right to vote, to serve on a jury, to run for office, and to become a notary public.

According to Richmond Registrar J. Kirk Showalter, just over 100 convicted felons registered to vote in her office this week. Those applications, though, are currently sitting in a pile for the time being.

In order to verify their status, the registrar must run the applicant's name in a state database updated by the Secretary of the Commonwealth. With the names of 206,000 convicted felons needing to be added to that database, it's created a backlog in applications at the local level.

"Be patient! There are an additional 200,000 names that have to be uploaded to the Secretary of the Commonwealth's website to be a searchable tool," explained Clovia Lawrence. In 2004, Lawrence launched the Rolling for Freedom Project, aimed at getting convicted felons the restoration of rights.

"It was a 13-page application at the time. Our first event, we had hundreds show up," said Lawrence, who worked with lawmakers to change the process.

She stressed the fact that those former felons now have the ability to vote, run for office, be on a jury, and become a public notary, the process will just take some time to work itself out.

"The one thing I want everyone to know, if you have completed incarceration, you have been released by probation and parole, you have met that criteria, as of April 22, you are eligible to register to vote," she stated.

Based on emails sent to them from the state, local registrars worry it could take anywhere from 90 days to a year to get the database up to date.

Copyright 2016 WWBT NBC12. All rights reserved

Virginia Governor Restores Voting Rights to Felons


Gov. Terry McAuliffe held up the signed executive order at a ceremony outside the state capitol in Richmond, Va., on Friday. Credit Chet Strange for The New York Times
WASHINGTON — Gov. Terry McAuliffe of Virginia used his executive power on Friday to restore voting rights to more than 200,000 convicted felons, circumventing the Republican-run legislature. The action overturns a Civil War-era provision in the state’s Constitution aimed, he said, at disenfranchising African-Americans.

The sweeping order, in a swing state that could play a role in deciding the November presidential election, will enable all felons who have served their prison time and finished parole or probation to register to vote. Most are African-Americans, a core constituency of Democrats, Mr. McAuliffe’s political party.

Amid intensifying national attention over harsh sentencing policies that have disproportionately affected African-Americans, governors and legislatures around the nation have been debating — and often fighting over — moves to restore voting rights for convicted felons.

In Kentucky, Gov. Matt Bevin, a newly elected Republican, recently overturned an order enacted by his Democratic predecessor that was similar to the one Mr. McAuliffe signed Friday. In Maryland, Gov. Larry Hogan, a Republican, vetoed a measure to restore voting rights to convicted felons, but Democrats in the state legislature overrode him in February and an estimated 44,000 former prisoners who are on probation are now eligible to register for voting.

“There’s no question that we’ve had a horrible history in voting rights as relates to African-Americans — we should remedy it,” Mr. McAuliffe said in an interview Thursday, previewing the announcement he made on the steps of Virginia’s Capitol, just yards from where President Abraham Lincoln once addressed freed slaves. “We should do it as soon as we possibly can.”

The action, which Mr. McAuliffe said was justified under an expansive legal interpretation of his executive clemency authority, provoked an immediate backlash from Virginia Republicans. They issued a statement Friday accusing the governor of “political opportunism” and “a transparent effort to win votes.”

“Those who have paid their debts to society should be allowed full participation in society,” said the statement from the party chairman, John Whitbeck. “But there are limits.” He said Mr. McAuliffe was wrong to issue a blanket restoration of rights, even to those who “committed heinous acts of violence.”

There is no way to know how many of the newly eligible voters in Virginia will register. “My message is going to be that I have now done my part,” Mr. McAuliffe said.

Friday’s shift in Virginia is part of a national trend toward restoring voter rights to felons, based in part on the hope that it will aid former prisoners’ re-entry into society. Over the last two decades about 20 states have acted to ease their restrictions, according to the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University.

Only two states — Maine and Vermont — have no voting restrictions on felons.

Virginia has been one of four states — the others are Kentucky, Florida and Iowa — that impose the harshest restrictions, a lifetime ban on voting for felons. The Sentencing Project says one in five African-Americans in Virginia cannot vote.

In Kentucky, Mr. Bevin, who took office in November, promptly overturned an executive order issued by his predecessor, Steven L. Beshear, just before he left office. Then, last week, Mr. Bevin signed into law a less expansive measure, allowing felons to petition judges to vacate their convictions, which would enable them to vote.

Previous governors in Florida and Iowa took executive action to ease their lifetime bans, but in each case, a subsequent governor restored the tough rules.

Marc Mauer said Mr. McAuliffe’s decision would have lasting consequences because it will remain in effect at least until January 2018, when the governor leaves office. It covers those convicted of violent crimes, including murder and rape.

“This will be the single most significant action on disenfranchisement that we’ve ever seen from a governor,” Mr. Mauer said, “and it’s noteworthy that it’s coming in the middle of this term, not the day before he leaves office. So there may be some political heat but clearly he’s willing to take that on, which is quite admirable.”

Myrna Pérez, director of a voting rights project at the Brennan Center, said Mr. McAuliffe’s move was particularly important because Virginia has had such restrictive laws on voting by felons. Still, she said,“Compared to the rest of the country, this is a very middle of the road policy.’’

Ms. Pérez said almost half of all states already had less restrictive policies than the one announced by Mr. McAuliffe, allowing felons to vote after their prison terms are completed even while they remain on parole or probation.

Advocates who have been working with the Virginia governor say they are planning to fan out into Richmond communities Friday afternoon to start registering people.

Experts say that with the stroke of his pen, Mr. McAuliffe has allowed convicted felons to begin registering to vote, and that their voting rights cannot be revoked — even if a new governor rescinds the order for future released prisoners.

But the move quickly led to accusations that the governor was playing politics; he is a longtime friend of — and top fund-raiser for — Hillary Clinton, the likely Democratic nominee for president, and former President Bill Clinton.

In the interview, Mr. McAuliffe said that he was not acting for political reasons, and that few people outside his immediate staff had known of his plans. He said he had not consulted with Mrs. Clinton or her campaign before making the decision.

The executive order builds on steps the governor had already taken to restore voting rights to 18,000 Virginians since the beginning of his term, and he said he believed his authority to issue the decision was “ironclad.”

Prof. A. E. Dick Howard of the University of Virginia School of Law, the principal draftsman of a revised Constitution adopted by Virginia in 1971, agreed, and said the governor had “ample authority.” But Professor Howard, who advised Mr. McAuliffe on the issue, said the move might well be challenged in court. The most likely argument, he said, is that the governor cannot restore voting rights to an entire class of people all at once.

Virginia’s Constitution has prohibited felons from voting since the Civil War; the restrictions were expanded in 1902, as part of a package that included poll taxes and literacy tests.

In researching the provisions, advisers to the governor turned up a 1906 report that quoted Carter Glass, a Virginia state senator, as saying they would “eliminate the darkey as a political factor in this State in less than five years, so that in no single county of the Commonwealth will there be the least concern felt for the complete supremacy of the white race in the affairs of government.”

Mr. McAuliffe, who took office in 2014 and campaigned to restore voting rights to felons, said that he viewed disenfranchisement as “a remnant of the poll tax” and that he had been “trying to figure out what more I can possibly do.”

The governor’s action Friday will not apply to felons released in the future; his aides say Mr. McAuliffe intends to issue similar orders on a monthly basis to cover people as they are released.

“People have served their time and done their probation,” Mr. McAuliffe said. “I want you back in society. I want you feeling good about yourself. I want you voting, getting a job, paying taxes.’’

Sheryl Gay Stolberg reported from Washington and Erik Eckholm from New York


Justice Department warns local courts about unlawful fines and fees

By Matt Zapotosky March 14 at 7:00 AM 

The Justice Department is asking local courts across the country to be wary of how they slap poor defendants with fines and fees to fill their jurisdictions’ coffers, warning that such practices often run afoul of the U.S. Constitution and have serious real-world consequences.

In a letter that will be sent Monday morning to the chief judges and court administrators in all 50 states, Vanita Gupta, the head of the department’s Civil Rights Division, and Lisa Foster, director of the Office for Access to Justice, wrote that illegal enforcement of fines and fees had been receiving increased attention in recent years, and the Justice Department had a “strong interest” in making sure the rights of citizens were protected.

“Individuals may confront escalating debt; face repeated, unnecessary incarceration for nonpayment despite posing no danger to the community; lose their jobs; and become trapped in cycles of poverty that can be nearly impossible to escape,” Gupta and Foster wrote. “Furthermore, in addition to being unlawful, to the extent that these practices are geared not toward addressing public safety, but rather toward raising revenue, they can cast doubt on the impartiality of the tribunal and erode trust between local governments and their constituents.”

The letter begins with the phrase “Dear Colleague,” and it does not threaten any specific enforcement action for those who ignore it. Officials said, however, it is an indication that the Justice Department is stepping up its efforts on the problem of local court fines and fees. Department officials will also announce Monday that they are making $2.5 million in grant funding available for jurisdictions with plans to “test strategies to restructure the assessment and enforcement of fines and fees.”

“We believe strongly the Constitution needs to be upheld in every court in every place in the United States, so we’re trying to help make sure that comes to pass,” Foster said in an interview.

The White House and the department convened a summit on the issue in December with advocates and court officials, and the Justice Department alleged in a recent lawsuit that officers Ferguson, Mo., were violating citizens’ civil rights in part because their policing tactics were meant to generate revenue.

The financial penalties — typically for minor misdemeanors, traffic infractions or violations of city code — disproportionately affect the poor, who cannot afford to pay immediately are then hit with arrest warrants or additional penalties.

The Washington Post’s Radley Balko published a lengthy investigation of municipalities’ practices in St. Louis County in 2014, finding that some towns there derived derive 40 percent or more of their annual revenue from the petty fines and fees collected by their municipal courts. Justice Department officials said they have seen similar problems in many other states.

“It varies from state to state about how severe the problem is, but the problem is everywhere,” Foster said.

[Report details problems in St. Louis County municipal courts]

The letter details seven principles that Gupta and Foster say court personnel should be aware of when imposing fines and fees. The officials wrote that courts should not jail people for nonpayment of fines and fees without first determining whether the non-payer was indigent and then establishing that the failure to pay was “willful.” They wrote that courts should consider alternatives to jail for indigent defendants; they must not use arrest warrants or license suspensions to coerce payments without giving defendants their rightful constitutional protections; and they must not use bail practices that leave poor people jailed “solely because they cannot afford to pay for their release.”

The officials wrote that courts should not require prepayment as a condition for a judicial hearing; they must provide meaningful notice and — in some cases — lawyers for those facing fines and fees; and they must “safeguard against unconstitutional practices by court staff and private contractors,” who are often left enforcing fines and fees because judges devote only a few hours to it on their crowded dockets.

“We urge you to review court rules and procedures within your jurisdiction to ensure that they comply with due process, equal protection, and sound public policy,” Gupta and Foster wrote.

The Justice Department could turn to more heavy-handed tactics, such as withholding grant money from jurisdictions with unconstitutional practices or filing lawsuits or criminal cases. The letter does not threaten any such action, but it notes that courts receiving federal funds might be violating the Civil Rights Act when their practices “unnecessarily impose disparate harm on the basis of race or national origin.”

Gupta said the letter is intended to “articulate a set of principles” that address a wide range of state and local court practices and to spark conversations that might lead to reform. She and Foster said some problems can become ingrained in court systems over time, as leaders do not stop to consider the broader constitutional issues.

“This is a serious problem that needs to be addressed, and our expectation is that’s what’s going to happen,” Foster said. “Hopefully, there will be no need to do anything else than be a good partner.”