Gov. Northam called the charges “deeply troubling.”
Right before the General Asssembly’s special session centred around police and criminal justice reform, the first Black woman to lead Virginia’s state Senate was charged with the “injury” of a Confederate statue.
The Portsmouth Police Department charged Sen. Louise Lucas (D-Portsmouth) with two felonies in connection to the attempted removal of a Confederate monument that led to a man suffering a life-threatening injury.
“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,” Gov. Ralph Northam tweeted in response to the Portsmouth Police Department’s announcement.
Lucas was charged with conspiracy to commit a felony and injury to a monument in excess of $1,000.
On June 10, a Confederate monument in Portsmouth was broken apart by demonstrators. A piece of debris struck a man in the process, and he sustained critical injuries.
Lucas was one of 14 people charged in connection with the statue removal, including a Portsmouth school board member, NAACP chapter members, and three public defenders. Portsmouth Police Chief Angela Greene has recommended that they turn themselves into custody.
“During this time of our nation’s unrest, which was a direct result of the heinous death of Mr. George Floyd, countless monuments across our nation were being defaced by protestors,” Greene said to CNN. “Many of those localities investigated the acts of destruction and subsequently charged the responsible parties well after the incidents were over.”
Greene also said Portsmouth was the only city where a statue removal injured someone. However, she did not detail the specific actions Lucas is accused of doing to warrant these charges.
Statue removal advocates and fellow politicians have spoken out on Lucas’ behalf. The Virginia Legislative Black Caucus released a statement, calling the accusations “suspicious” and “baseless”.
“I believe during the incident in question, Sen. Lucas stood up for protesters. We are confident that justice will be served and she will be exonerated of these charges,” said Chairman Lamont Bagby. “She was there fighting for justice. These charges against her are simply outrageous.”
The American Civil Liberties Union of Virginia has called for the charges against Lucas and the others to be dropped. According to the ACLU, these charges were filed without the prosecutors approval, a controversial action that only a few states, including Virginia, allows.
“These charges are political, and I think they’re discriminatory,”said Claire G. Gastanaga, executive director of the ACLU of Virginia, to Fox.
Despite the charges, Sen. Lucas is still expected to attend and participate in Tuesday’s special General Assembly session centred around retooling the state’s budget and policing policies, according to WAVY.