CITY OF ALEXANDRIA, Va. (WDVM) — On Monday evening, City of Alexandria activist Tiffany Flowers hosted the Alexandria Police Department, Sheriff’s Office and Mayor Justin Wilson for a conversation about policing and how the city is addressing inequities. Mayor Wilson says many in the city are affirming the value of Black lives, however the city and community partners are still deciding what permanent changes are necessary to encourage equity.
Flowers posed a few questions she received from the community. Some were personal, like asking the panelists to share their take on the historical context of police brutality in the United States. Others were questions about numbers: the police department’s sworn officers are 66 percent white and 18 percent Black. The sheriff’s office has 214 staff members; 108 of them are Black (54 female and 54 male). The community also had questions about the police department’s policies regarding traffic stops and arrests and how the city’s $100 million police budget is used. Wilson says the police budget is 8.5 percent of the total general operating budget, and a portion of that $100 million is used for social services like mental health care and substance use treatment.
On Tuesday, Chief Deputy Shelbert Williams of the sheriff’s department commended Sheriff Dana Lawhorne, who has spent the month having conversations with the community and with staff members. “In order to have control of something you have to have a say in it. You have to vent. You have to explore. You have to be able to say, ‘This is wrong.’ And one thing the sheriff did is say, ‘Hey this is wrong. We need to change. We have to change.’”
Born in New York City, Williams moved to Alexandria in the sixth grade. While he grew up, the city grew up too, but much was left behind. Williams wants housing disparities and educational disparities to be addressed. “We need to understand that we’re not just one community for one group of people. We’re a community for all. So once we develop in that sense we will address a lot of the issue we have,” he said. “In order to have control of something you have to have a say in it. You have to vent. You have to explore. You have to be able to say, ‘This is wrong,’ and one thing the sheriff did is say, ‘Hey, this is wrong. We need to change. We have to change.’”
While he doesn’t support violence, Williams says it’s OK to be angry. He says members of the sheriff’s office were angry at first. But now they’re working on their policies. The sheriff’s department is hosting its fourth staff meeting Wednesday about Campaign Zero’s steps to mitigate and prevent police brutality, called 8 Can’t Wait. Sheriff Lawhorne is also hosting weekly meetings over Zoom with community members to hear their concerns.
“We say that we are open, but are we really open? Everything that’s here today has always been here – but why are we changing it today? Unfortunately, it took an uprising to curb that,” Williams said. “It can’t stop. We just have to have the ability to continue. Let’s see how long it lasts.”
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