A Black state senator in Virginia could go to prison for her alleged role in a June 10 protest that resulted in the destruction of a Confederate monument.
On Monday, the Portsmouth Police Department announced criminal charges against Democrat Sen. Louise Lucas, who has represented the 18th district of Virginia since 1992 and is working as a surrogate for Joe Biden’s campaign.
Lucas has been charged with conspiracy to commit a felony, and injury to a monument in excess of $1,000. If convicted, she’s facing a possible prison sentence of one to five years.
The June 10 protest took place at Portsmouth’s Confederate monument, a towering 35-foot obelisk encircled by four Confederate generals, that was erected in the late 19th century. Norfolk State University historian Cassandra Newby-Alexander contends that the monument was intentionally placed next to a historic courthouse where sales of slaves were finalized, and where slaves were whipped and punished.
Lucas and others were participating in the wave of protests against police brutality and systemic racism that swept the U.S. following George Floyd’s death at the hand of a police officer in Minneapolis. The Confederate monuments scattered across the U.S., particularly in the South, were suddenly back in the spotlight — and some local officials scrambled to remove them before protesters took matters into their own hands.
Portsmouth Police Chief Angela Greene has not said explicitly what Lucas allegedly did at the monument to warrant the charges against her. She was charged alongside members of the local NAACP, public defenders, and a member of the school board. Hundreds of people came to the protest.
Later that night, protesters beheaded the statues of the Confederate generals; one protester was struck by a falling statue and ended up in a coma.
“Several individuals conspired and organized to destroy the monument as well as summon hundreds of people to join in felonious acts,” Greene said.
Lucas’ Democratic colleagues have since rushed to her defense.
“Louise Lucas is a trailblazing public servant who isn’t afraid to do and say what she believes is right,” tweeted former Gov. Terry McAuliffe. “Her opposition to a racist monument is the definition of what John Lewis called ‘good trouble’.”
Gov. Ralph Northam noted the timing of the criminal charges: just one day before Virginia lawmakers convened in Richmond for a special session to address proposed police reform and other criminal justice reform measures.
“It’s deeply troubling that on the verge of Virginia passing long-overdue police reform, the first Black woman to serve as our Senate Pro Tempore is suddenly facing highly unusual charges,” Northam tweeted.
Lucas’ attorney Don Scott gave a press conference Monday, in which he described the charges as a “political stunt to weaponize the criminal justice system against Black people.”
The ACLU underscored the fact that Virginia is one of the few states that allows a police department to obtain a felony warrant without the approval from the district attorney’s office (in Virginia, known as the ‘Commonwealth Attorney”). In Lucas’ case, Portsmouth Police Department bypassed Commonwealth Attorney Stephanie Morales, who is known as a progressive prosecutor, and obtained a warrant from the magistrate’s office.
“These charges are political, and I think they’re discriminatory,” Claire G. Gastañaga, executive director of the ACLU of Virginia, told the Associated Press. “The police department is making decisions about who should be charged in a circumstance in which the elected (prosecutor) is being bypassed.”
Cover: State Sen. Louise Lucas, D-Portsmouth, listens during the meeting of the Senate Judiciary committee at the Capitol in Richmond, Va., Monday, Jan. 13, 2020. Lucas sponsored a bill calling for one gun a month gun purchases which passed the committee. (AP Photo/Steve Helber)