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Racial justice group hosts 'community conversation' on police abolition

It’s been a bloody winter in Charlottesville, which has seen multiple shootings and deaths since the start of the year. But police are not the solution, according to the local chapter of Showing Up for Racial Justice.

The group gathered at the Freedom of Speech Wall in downtown Charlottesville on Saturday afternoon, offering up crafting supplies, serving up sweet treats and envisioning a world without police.

“We wanted to create a Valentine’s-themed event that would focus on the aspects of community that can create alternatives to policing,” said event co-organizer Anna, who declined to provide a last name.

“We’re an abolitionist group,” said Ben Doherty, seated near a “cops suck”-labeled bucket of Dum Dums suckers while penning a message on a red-rimmed card.

The two are part of SURJ, a national network dedicated to getting white people to confront white supremacy. The Charlottesville area’s local chapter has opposed evictions, called for an end to Immigration and Customs Enforcement and, now with this event, fostered a conversation on police violence.

That conversation comes in the wake of the release of a videotape last month of police attacking 29-year-old Memphis resident Tyre Nichols, who later died from his injuries.

People in Charlottesville and Albemarle County, where gun violence has taken nine lives and injured 18 others since September, are looking for answers. But there isn’t a list of solutions that includes police, according to several of those in attendance on Saturday.

“They just show up after crimes,” said Maria Rincon, who attended the event. “They don’t prevent anything from happening. And then they lock people up as if that’s going to solve anything.”

“When we defund police,” Rincon continued, “we can invest in our communities: in education, in transportation, in public goods, in a safety social net, in housing people so they don’t have to live on the streets. So we’re really talking about envisioning an incredible future.”

SURJ is dedicated to fighting white supremacy, defined less as individual acts of bigotry and more as what the group sees as an entrenched system that concentrates money and power in the hands of white people.

As she scrubbed the Freedom of Speech Wall so the group could add its own messages to the community chalkboard, attendee Laura Sirgany said that her interactions with police have been negative.

“An ex refused to return my child and was making violent threats, and the police when contacted said, ‘That’s a domestic situation, and we don’t get involved,’” said Sirgany. “I’m very close to a person who was in a similar situation, and that situation ended in murder.”

Defunding police can be a controversial topic, and co-organizer Anna said that one man flipped a middle finger at the group while walking past the SURJ event.

A block away on Market Street, a man climbing aboard a city bus voiced his own opinion on the police.

“Defunding them is just taking away from our safety,” said Carl Lee Thomas. “Let them figure it out. It might take 10 years, it might take 20.”

When asked if the violence in Memphis had changed his opinion on the matter, Thomas said no.

“That’s not because of our Charlottesville, Virginia, police department,” Thomas answered. “That’s Memphis, Tennessee.”

As SURJ’s “abolition envisioning session” closed on the mall, the group left behind a wall littered with hopeful messages, including “Loving and supporting each other” and “More $ 4 public education.”

Anna said the event was “just trying to get people to talk.”

“Getting a community conversation is our goal.”


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