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Locals protest AG Sessions’ Richmond visit, point to checkered past with civil rights and Russia

GregRosenberg | March 15, 2017

About 60 protesters showed up in Downtown Richmond this morning to protest an appearance by US Attorney General Jeff Sessions.

A multitude of groups representing a range of issues offered different, unconnected demonstrations that included chants and speeches hoping to amplify their concerns during the US AG’s visit.

Among those in the crowd was the Chairwoman of the Democratic Party of Virginia, Susan Swecker.

“We heard we had a guest in the building,” she said after holding a brief press conference flanked by protestors holding signs saying “I stand with Coretta,” referencing a 1986 letter sent by Coretta Scott King denouncing Sessions when he tried and failed to gain a Federal judge seat in his home state of Alabama.

“It’s a true, organic concern from all swaths of citizenry here,” said Swecker who pointed out some of the protestors present were event trying to distance themselves from her party or any specific cause. She said that disjointedness should debunk any questions around the authenticity of the event.

“It’s just happening, somebody else will say ’they paid these people to come out’ but this is just democracy,” she said.

Del. Betsy Carr, who’s represents Richmond at the General Assembly in the 69th district, came out to the event to show support. She said Richmonders must remain vigilant in the face of Sessions and worried about his history of racism.

The AG was in town to meet with law enforcement officials to discuss “efforts to combat violent crime and restore public safety,” but Carr asked why those in charge with fighting crime in the Commonwealth – AG Herring and Secretary of Public Safety Secretary Brian Moran – were not invited to the meeting.

Richmond Police Chief Alfred Durham was reported have been in attendance and Carr hoped to hear from him following the event.

“I’ll be interested to see what [Durham] says afterword,” she said. “But when I’m at community meetings, the police are there. Our police force looks like the people here in Richmond. We don’t have a lot of complaints here and they are working very carefully in all the ways that they can to make positive things happen.”

While Carr might have seen positive interactions on her recent police walks, Richmond has faced an increasing murder rate. Both RVA and Norfolk were in the top 30 cities for murder rates according to a study from 2015.

But Moran and Herring weren’t the only high-ranking Virginia elected officials not invited, Lt. Gov. Ralph Northam too felt snubbed when no word of the event was passed to him.

”I’m a fairly high ranking official in Virginia and I don’t remember getting an invitation to this… we want to represent the people of Virginia,” he said.

Northam (pictured above, left), who is currently running for the Governor’s seat, said he too took issue with Session’s Senate Confirmation lie about meetings with Russian officials during the election.

“We all have a a code of ethics and to be honorable and to have the highest ranking law enforcement official in the land have difficulty telling the truth, I can’t condone that and i think he should step down,” he said.

As for Session’s mission to discuss violent crime, Northam said he hoped the conversation would shift towards gun control, especially in the wake of one of New York’s largest gun busts with sales originating in Virginia.

“He’s here talking about  crime on our streets, we want to make it safer on our streets in Virginia and one f the things we can do is go back to one gun am month so people aren’t taking them up to New York,” he said.

The actual protest consisted mostly of chants and a march around the SunTrust Building at 919 E Main street where Sessions and law enforcement officials were meeting inside.

Anna and Gram were two of those protesters voicing their concerns. Anna said she was drawn to the event by “anger over Jeff Sessions lying under oath and not resigning.” “And generally being a terrible person,” added Gram. Anna relayed concern that seems to be worrying many, that officials simply aren’t being held accountable.

One woman participating in the protest carried a two-sided sign with Sessions face covered by the word “resign” on one side and “liar” (in Cyrillic, Russia’s written language) on the other. She said she was there representing the Liberal Women of Chesterfield County (LWCC), a group which formed during the 2016 election deep in a red county. They now focus on protesting, lobbying, and writing their representatives in the face of an administration that they say marginalizes people.

“I think a lot of people are out here protesting his opposing equal rights and civil rights that has gone on for decades,” she said. “But now, particularly with immigration, ICE making it harder to get into our country for people who are seeking refuge, and then the icing on the cake is really the fact that he perjured himself under oath about something that people are already a bit weary of – whether there’s a connect [with Russia] or not, he knew that would hurt him so he lied about it.”

Claire Guthrie Gastanaga,  Executive Director of Virginia ACLU, gave a speech outside the SunTrust building surrounded by protesters delineating the standards and expectations to which she holds those meeting with Sessions.

From his work disabling protections for trans kids, his expected response to voting rights issues, his handling of police brutality and the future of the Justice Department’s treatment of police killings, her list of concerns was long and thorough.

“We want Sessions to do that instead of buying into the false narrative that police are the victims,” she yelled into a bullhorn before the gathered crowd. “And we want them all to reaffirm their commitment to reforming police, to professionalizing police, to constitutionalizing police, to ending policing for profit and biased based policing in Virginia.”

Additional reporting and photos by Brad Kutner