It has to be about more than taking down monuments

robert e lee richmond

(© Noel –

The removal of the Robert E. Lee statue from Monument Drive is a nice first step, but that’s all it is – a first step.

The removal of other memorials to the Lost Cause still standing in public spaces across the Commonwealth would be a nice next step.

But, not enough.

Getting the statues down is important symbolically, but it’s time to go all the way.

We need to address disparities in policing in terms of how it applies to enforcement of laws on the books among people of color.

Citizens police review boards should be created across the Commonwealth, in every community – every city, every town, every county.

Public oversight of police is a key to rebuilding a level of trust between law enforcement and private citizens.

Police chiefs and sheriffs need to hire and train officers to apply the laws on the books equally and with equanimity.

We need to address how much we pay police officers and sheriff’s deputies in Virginia. We don’t have a good track record of prioritizing pay for law enforcement.

Better pay means we can attract and retain better people.

We need to build ourselves toward becoming a Commonwealth of Opportunity.

Education is the great equalizer, and yet the way we fund public schools now doesn’t provide for equality of opportunity in our Commonwealth.

Kids in inner cities and rural central, south, western and southwest Virginia deserve the right to the same quality education that rich white kids in Northern Virginia get.

We need to emphasize diversity in hiring for local and state government jobs – diversity including race, ethnicity, gender, identity, class.

The more our government offices can look like our communities, the better we can guarantee that policy directives, program decisions, enforcements, the rest, reflect our shared experiences.

Local and state governments need to seek more diversity in private companies when outsourcing work.

There are already plenty of laws on the books telling those entities to do that, but we can and must do a better job of seeing it through.

And that’s the case across the board.

Plenty of laws on the books have codified supposed equality.

It’s how we do things, or don’t do things, that is the crux of the matter.

It’s how police officers and sheriff’s deputies decide to handle a broken tail light. How a General Assembly committee divvies up money for public schools.

How an HR person in City Hall treats hiring for an open position.

How a state agency treats a procurement opportunity.

Most of what needs to happen is done behind closed doors.

It’s the mundane, day to day, the boring stuff.

Training new police officers, balancing budgets.

Sifting through job applications, bids on projects.

Removing a monument is something that we can all see. No doubt there will be throngs of people on hand for when the Lee memorial finally comes down, and applause from those who saw to it that it happened.

It’s what happens after the monuments go down that matters more.

Story by Chris Graham


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