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Man arrested for lying about Marion cross burning, interfering with fair housing based on race

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ABINGDON, VIRGINIA – James Brown, of Marion, Virginia, was arrested this afternoon and charged with lying to federal agents about his involvement in the burning of a cross on the front lawn of an African-American woman’s home and criminal interference with fair housing based upon the victim’s race. United States Attorney Thomas T. Cullen and Neil L. Mathison, Acting Special Agent in Charge of the FBI’s Richmond Division made the announcement.

“The frightening act at the center of today’s complaint—a racially motivated cross-burning—interfered with the victim’s federally protected right to fair housing,” U.S. Attorney Cullen stated today.

“Acts of violence, threats, and other forms of intimidation prompted by racial animus are serious federal crimes, and we will continue to work closely with the FBI to hold offenders accountable.”

“The FBI is committed to protecting all citizens, and will aggressively investigate acts of intimidation or violence against anyone based on race or ethnicity,” Acting Special Agent in Charge Mathison said today. “We thank the Marion County Police Department, the Smyth County Sheriff’s Office, and the United States Attorney’s Office’s Western District of Virginia for their swift and direct attention to this incident.”


Brown, 40, was arrested June 26, 2020, on a federal criminal complaint charging him with lying to federal agents and criminal interference with fair housing based upon the victim’s race.

The area around where a burning barrel containing what appeared to be a cross was located is taped off during a joint investigation between the Marion Police Department and the Smyth County Sheriff’s Office. Photo courtesy the Marion Police Department

According to court documents, on June 14, 2020, at approximately 12:55 a.m., the Marion Police Department received a report of a burning cross in the front yard of an African-American family, one of whom had organized a civil rights protest the day before. In the following days, working with the FBI, investigators learned of the involvement of Brown. When questioned by investigators if he had anything to do with the cross-burning incident, Brown allegedly lied. Witnesses interviewed during the investigation stated that Brown admitted to the cross burning and used racial epithets when referring to the African American family.

The investigation of the case was conducted by the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the Marion Police Department, and the Smyth County Sheriff’s Office. Assistant United States Attorney Zachary T. Lee is prosecuting the case for the United States.

A criminal complaint is merely an accusation. The defendant is presumed innocent until proven guilty in a court of law.

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Vaccinate Virginia: A Conversation with Dr. Anthony Fauci and Healthcare Providers

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Research consistently shows that a healthcare provider’s recommendation is among the most influential factors in a person’s decision to get vaccinated. This virtual event will focus on strategies for building confidence in the COVID-19 vaccines, engaging communities about the importance of vaccination, and collaborating with trusted messengers.

 

Panelist include:

Governor Ralph Northam

Dr. Danny Avula, Virginia Vaccination Coordinator


Dr. Chris Ghaemmaghami, Professor of Emergency and Internal Medicine, UVA

Dr M. Norman Oliver, State Health Commissioner

Dr. Gloria Addo-Ayensu, Director of Health, Fairfax County

Dr. Erin Brickley, MountainView Pediatrics, Marion

 

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Students submit suggestions for new highway markers through inaugural AAPI Heritage Month Historical Marker Contest

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On August 3, 2021, Governor Ralph Northam announced five new state historical highway markers that highlight topics of national, state, and regional significance to Asian American Pacific Islander (AAPI) history in the Commonwealth. These markers were submitted by Virginia students through the inaugural AAPI Heritage Month Historical Marker Contest. This afternoon, the Governor was joined by First Lady Pamela Northam and members of his Administration for a virtual event yesterday recognizing the students and educators with this year’s winning submissions.

“Throughout history, Asian American and Pacific Islander communities have made significant contributions to our Commonwealth and our country, but too often their stories remain untold,” said Governor Northam. “As we continue working to tell a more comprehensive and inclusive Virginia story, I am grateful for the efforts of Virginia students and educators in helping elevate the voices of prominent AAPI Virginians with these five new historical markers.”

Launched in May, the AAPI Heritage Month Historical Marker Contest invites students, teachers, and families to learn more about Asian Americans who have made important contributions to Virginia history and submit ideas for new historical markers to the Department of Historical Resources.

“Through the Governor’s historical marker contests and various other initiatives, the Department of Historic Resources is determined to highlight untold stories, and I am grateful to all the students and educators who have helped make this vision a reality,” said Secretary of Natural and Historic Resources Matthew J. Strickler. “These students have made a meaningful contribution to our historic justice efforts and worked hard to ensure our markers are inclusive, diverse, and tell the full Virginia story.”


The student winners and descriptions of the five new markers selected for installation are as follows:

• “Filipinos in the U.S. Navy” (Virginia Beach), nominated by students from Cherry Run Elementary School in Burke, Virginia, and by the adult English as a Second Language (ESL) program in Chesterfield County, Virginia.

Filipino members of the U.S. Navy have served in Hampton Roads since at least the Civil War. A full Filipino-American community began emerging after the Philippines achieved independence in 1946 and the Navy began recruiting Filipinos for all positions. Today, spurred by the Navy and a large nursing community, Hampton Roads is the second-largest Filipino community on the East Coast.

• “Kim Kyusik” (Salem), nominated by students from Cumberland Middle School in Cumberland, Virginia.

In 1903, Kyusik graduated from Roanoke College, which today funds a fellowship in his memory. He held several roles in the Provisional Government of the Republic of Korea including foreign minister and vice president and was a representative at the 1919 Paris Peace Conference. He was kidnapped by North Korean factions after World War II and died in captivity.

• “Arthur Azo Matsu” (Williamsburg), nominated by students from Cumberland Middle School in Cumberland, Virginia.

Matsu graduated from William & Mary in 1927, where he was the first Asian American student. The son of a Scottish mother and a Japanese father, he became a leader on campus even as Virginia introduced a series of laws in the 1920s to prevent “race-mixing.” He became the first Japanese-American football player in the National Football League as a quarterback, after guiding William & Mary’s high-octane offense from 1923 to 1926 and leading the program to its first postseason win.

• “W. W. Yen” also known as Yan Huiqing (Charlottesville) nominated by students from Hunters Woods Elementary in Reston, Virginia.

Yen graduated from the University of Virginia in 1900, where he was the first international student to earn a bachelor’s degree and the first Chinese student to earn a degree. One of China’s key early 20th century leaders, he served as premier five times and held a series of important cabinet and diplomatic posts. The University of Virginia now has a dorm and scholarship fund named after him.

• “Vietnamese Immigrants in Northern Virginia” (Falls Church) nominated by students at Mary Ellen Henderson Middle School in Falls Church, Virginia.

The Vietnamese community began solidifying in Arlington’s Clarendon neighborhood during the 1970s, becoming known as Little Saigon by the end of the decade. The fall of the South Vietnamese government spurred a surge in immigration, with the D.C. area becoming the third-largest Vietnamese community in the country. Climbing rents pushed much of the Vietnamese commerce west to the Eden Center in the 1980s, which over the ensuing years has expanded and become at one point the largest Vietnamese shopping district in the country.

“The Historical Marker Contest helped me learn more about Virginians who made a big impact, like Arthur Matso, the first Japanese-American to play in the NFL,” said Andrew Crenshaw, a rising 6th grader at Cumberland Middle School. “As I researched Arthur Matso, I learned how much he did for the sport of football and for Virginia. He played quarterback at William & Mary and coached football at several Virginia high schools, inspiring students like me to work hard and do their best.”

Virginia’s historical highway marker program began in 1927 with the installation of the first markers along U.S. Route 1 and is considered the oldest such program in the nation. Co-managed by the Department of Historic Resources and the Virginia Department of Transportation, the program is an effort to recognize and chronicle events, accomplishments, sacrifices, and personalities of historic importance to Virginia’s story. The signs are known for their black lettering against a silver background and their distinctive shape.

“The AAPI Historical Marker Contest gives students, teachers, and families another way to think critically and intentionally about Virginia history,” said Chief Diversity Officer Dr. Janice Underwood. “The incredible students who participated in this contest are helping advance the ONE Virginia mission of telling a more complete version of our shared identity as Virginians, which includes contributions by our diaspora of AAPI residents.”

Virginia has erected more than 2,600 state historical markers. The five new markers will be formally submitted to the Board of Historic Resources in September and are expected to receive approval in the coming months. Once installed, they will be among the first to focus on Asian American and Pacific Islander history in Virginia.

“The AAPI Historical Marker Contest provides students an opportunity to guide their own learning by researching local heroes and discovering untold stories,” said Secretary of Education Atif Qarni. “These students have suggested new markers that will make a tangible impact on the way we remember our shared history forever, and I hope the experience will empower them to make a positive impact for years to come.”

A recording of the 2021 AAPI Heritage Month Historical Marker Contest virtual celebration is available here.

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Attorney General Herring urges Congress to pass legislation to ensure elections are conducted freely, fairly, and with integrity

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Attorney General Mark R. Herring has joined 22 attorneys general in sending a letter to Congress urging immediate action to safeguard democracy. In the letter, Attorney General Herring and his colleagues ask congress to pass legislation protecting against both voter suppression and election subversion. Attorney General Herring and his colleagues also share their concerns about what may come in future elections, if action is not taken urgently.

“This past year, we saw baseless efforts to overturn the 2020 election and anti-democratic attempts to suppress voters across the country,” said Attorney General Herring. “My colleagues and I worked hard to ensure that our voters’ rights were protected, and the election was conducted fairly and freely in our respective states. It’s time for Congress to act at the federal level to stop disenfranchisement and protect our elections in order to prevent similar situations in the future. This country was founded on democratic principles, and we must ensure that those remain intact, no matter who is in office.”

In the letter, Attorney General Herring and his colleagues describe how their offices worked to ensure that the 2020 general election was conducted freely, fairly, and with integrity. They add that several factors contributed to the failure of former President Trump and his allies to overturn a democratic outcome, saying, “The legal arguments made by those seeking to overturn election results were generally so extraordinarily weak that they did not even have the veneer of legitimacy. Certain election officials – both Republican and Democratic – refused to buckle under pressure at critical points, placing election integrity and our democracy, ahead of partisanship. And the attack on the outcome of the 2020 presidential election, while dangerous, was inept.”

Without new federal legislation strengthening protections for voting rights and preventing election subversion, Attorney General Herring and his colleagues are concerned that the nation cannot confidently rely on the incompetence of subverters to protect the will of the voters in future elections.


Several states have passed laws that create new barriers to voting or make it easier to overturn election results. In a statement issued on June 1 of this year, more than 100 democracy scholars explain, “[W]e have watched with deep concern as Republican-led state legislatures across the country have in recent months proposed or implemented what we consider radical changes to core electoral procedures in response to unproven and intentionally destructive allegations of a stolen election.” They observe that “[s]tatutory changes in large key electoral battleground states are dangerously politicizing the process of electoral administration” and “seeking to restrict access to the ballot.” And they warn, “[T]hese laws politicizing the administration and certification of elections could enable some state legislators or partisan election officials to do what they failed to do in 2020: reverse the outcome of a free and fair election.”

In their letter, Attorney General Herring and his colleagues say, “The truths upon which this nation was founded are self-evident. They are not self-executing, however. The profound challenges confronting our democracy demand that Congress act to prevent voter suppression and election subversion. Irrespective of one’s views on the value of the filibuster in general, it must not be allowed to stop Congress from addressing these issues so fundamental to our Constitution and our democracy.”

Attorney General Herring made it a top priority last year to protect voting rights and protect Virginia voters from illegal harassment or intimidation at the polls. Because of all the work that Attorney General Herring and his team did in preparation for Election Day, including making it clear that absolutely no voter intimidation would be tolerated in Virginia and preparing and planning for any and all outcomes or potential legal challenges, the Commonwealth saw a remarkably smooth and uneventful Election day. In addition to the OAG attorneys who normally represent the Board of Elections and the Department of Elections, Attorney General Herring assembled a multidisciplinary team of attorneys from his Civil Litigation and Public Safety Divisions, Solicitor General’s Office, and other divisions across the OAG, who were on standby, ready to jump into action at a moment’s notice should the need have arisen. The OAG also had lawyers in every corner of the Commonwealth who were prepared to go into court to handle any potential legal challenges.

Virginia also saw historic turnout during last year’s election, especially in early and absentee voting. This increase in voter participation was really possible in part because of Attorney General Herring’s work to make voting as easy and safe as possible during this unprecedented election cycle by crafting agreements to waive the witness signature on absentee ballots, making it easier for disabled Virginians to vote safely at home, extending the voter registration deadline, and blocking the drastic operational changes at the USPS.

Last year’s election cycle brought numerous challenges that prompted Attorney General Herring and his team to develop solutions and put out guidance to make sure every Virginian had a safe, comfortable, easy voting experience, whether they chose to vote early absentee, early in person, or on Election Day.

Attorney General Herring and his team negotiated options to promote safe, secure voting for Virginians who could not or did not want to risk their health to vote in person, including:

• An agreement that waived the witness requirement for absentee ballots for Virginians who feared for their safety voting in person

• An agreement that made it easier for Virginians with disabilities to participate in the election safely at home

Attorney General Herring also successfully blocked the Trump Administration’s drastic operational changes to the U.S. Postal Service, when a federal judge granted his motion for a preliminary injunction, explicitly saying in his order that, “at the heart of DeJoy’s and the Postal Service’s actions is voter disenfranchisement.”

Additionally, Attorney General Herring put a lot of emphasis on ensuring that Virginians felt comfortable and protected at polling places across the Commonwealth by:

• Issuing an advisory opinion outlining the protections in both state and federal law against voter intimidation and harassment in response to some reports of potential voter intimidation at a polling place in Fairfax, the day after early voting began in Virginia

• Reiterating the voter intimidation protections and outlining the actual duties of poll watchers in Virginia, following President Trump’s alarming rhetoric at the first presidential debate where he urged his supports to “go into the polls and watch very carefully”

• Writing to key law enforcement and elections stakeholder organizations asking for their commitment to ensuring a safe, fair, free, and accurate election, and outlining protections in both state and federal law to prevent voter intimidation and harassment

• Producing a short training video that walks law enforcement and elections officials through his voter intimidation opinion and the various tools that they can use to address potentially unlawful conduct

Joining Attorney General Herring in sending this letter are the attorneys general from California, Colorado, Connecticut, District of Columbia, Delaware, Iowa, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Nevada, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhodes Island, Vermont, Washington, and Wisconsin.

 

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American Rescue Plan funding to increase support for victims of crime, provide hazard pay for law enforcement and correctional officers

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Governor Ralph Northam announced on July 29, 2021, that Virginia plans to direct more than $114 million in federal and state funding to support public safety initiatives across the Commonwealth. The Governor’s proposal includes $62 million in hazard pay and compensation for public safety officials, $35 million to address COVID-19 in correctional facilities, and $17 million for crime reduction and prevention programs and services for victims of crime.

“We are grateful for Virginia’s public safety officials who have worked overtime throughout the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Governor Northam.” This critical investment will give us more resources to recruit and retain law enforcement and correctional officers, bolster our efforts to reduce gun violence, and help ensure the safety of families and communities across the Commonwealth.”

The proposed investment includes state funding as well as federal dollars from the American Rescue Plan (ARP). The Governor’s plan provides hazard pay for local and state law enforcement and correctional officers who served during the COVID-19 pandemic, as well as funding for recruitment and retention. The Governor’s plan includes $20 million for Virginia State Police, $10 million for the Department of Corrections, and $11 million to address critical staffing shortages at local and regional jails and sheriff’s departments. This also includes compensation for medical contractors, cafeteria and janitorial workers, and other support staff. The two-year budget that Governor Northam submits in December will include an additional $20 million to address pay scale compression for the Virginia State Police.

“The last year and a half have been tough on everyone, and this investment in public safety will provide much-needed relief to local and state law enforcement agencies and help localities to continue supporting victims of domestic and gun violence,” said Secretary of Public Safety and Homeland Security Brian Moran. “This funding is in recognition of the critical jobs they perform.”



“Recruitment and pay compression issues have led to an increasing number of vacancies at State Police over the past several years—these issues were only magnified by the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Wayne Huggins, Executive Director of the Virginia State Police Association (VSPA).” VSPA is encouraged that this issue is being addressed in an ongoing and comprehensive manner. We appreciate the Governor’s support and commitment.”

This investment also includes $35 million to address COVID-19 within facilities operated by the Department of Corrections and Department of Juvenile Justice. Funding will allow for rate increases for medical contractors and staff positions to support COVID-19 management. It will also provide testing supplies, personal protective equipment, ventilation modifications in correctional facilities, quarantine spaces, and tents to enable outdoor visitation.

“Today’s announcement shows that we are dedicated to protecting Virginian’s families and keeping our communities safe,” said House Speaker Eileen Filler-Corn. “I am proud of our strong investment in crime prevention measures and the commitment to supporting survivors of domestic violence.”

“This has been a difficult year, and it is crucial we use the available ARPA funds to support Virginia’s COVID-19 recovery,” said Senate Majority Leader Richard Saslaw. “Law enforcement compensation has been a long-standing issue, and I am pleased we are able to address it now.”

The COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated the demand for domestic violence and sexual assault programming and support services for crime victims in the Commonwealth. Since 2019, the number of individuals seeking shelter and contacts to the Virginia Statewide Hotline has risen significantly. The funding proposal includes $12.2 million in new resources for victims of crime and survivors of sexual assault, domestic violence, elder abuse, and child abuse. An additional $1 million will be dedicated to the Virginia Sexual and Domestic Violence Victim Fund, which will provide funding for prosecution and victim support.

The funding proposal designates $2.5 million for gun violence reduction initiatives within the Office of the Attorney General and more than $500,000 for the Department of Forensic Science to increase capacity to analyze firearms evidence. An additional $800,000 for the Department of Criminal Justice Services, which will administer a one-time grant to the City of Hampton to support an employment program for court-involved youth and adults facing barriers to employment, expand services for those participating in or at risk of participating in gun violence, and provide counseling or mental health services for those exposed to violence. These programs will work in conjunction with the Governor’s proposal to invest ARP funds in community-based services and substance abuse treatment.

“I am proud of this substantial investment in gun violence prevention in our Commonwealth,” said Senator Janet Howell, Chair of the Senate Finance and Appropriations Committee. “I have been a strong advocate for violence prevention measures and know this funding will provide critical services to impacted community members.”

“This funding will help address current public safety needs, including first responder staffing shortages and support for victims of crime, and help us to prepare for the future,” said Delegate Luke Torian, Chair of the House Appropriations Committee. “Throughout this difficult year, Virginia has shown that smart investments pay off for the public.”

“Handling the issue of salary compression and hazard pay for our local and state law enforcement officers and the Department of Corrections will help us to recruit, train, and retain more qualified and diverse officers,” said Delegate Lamont Bagby, Chair of the Virginia Legislative Black Caucus. “All Virginians will benefit from this comprehensive public safety funding, which includes necessary financial support for law enforcement offices and assistance for victims of violence.”

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Governor Northam announced that there will be no mask mandate; mask recommended but not required

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On July 29, 2021, Governor Northam announced that there will be no mask mandate. Northam did say that wearing masks in public indoor settings with a higher risk of coronavirus transmission “is not a requirement, but a recommendation.”

The Governor’s Twitter account also sent out the following:

The Governor said that more information would be released soon.

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New funding commitment supplements $833 million going directly to Virginia higher education institutions through American Rescue Plan

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On July 29, 2021, Governor Ralph Northam visited Virginia Tech where he announced that Virginia plans to use $111 million in American Rescue Plan funding to increase access to financial aid for low- and moderate-income undergraduate students. The proposal designates $100 million for public higher education institutions through the State Council for Higher Education in Virginia, and $11 million for private institutions eligible for the Virginia Tuition Assistance Grant program.

“The economic uncertainty of this pandemic has led many to question whether a college degree was still an affordable reality,” said Governor Northam. “Our Administration has worked hard to make higher education accessible to every Virginian, and this targeted investment represents a significant stride towards that goal. Increasing access to financial aid will help create more equitable pathways to opportunity and put a world-class education within reach of even more students.”

“In order for Virginia to be the best-educated state in the nation, we must continue to invest in financial aid and improve access to affordable higher education,” said Secretary of Education Atif Qarni. “It is critical that we dedicate federal relief funds to build on our past investments in financial assistance and bolster our education and talent pipelines.”

This proposed investment supplements more than $833 million that will be made available to Virginia colleges and universities through the American Rescue Plan Act’s Higher Education Emergency Relief Fund III. These funds will be received directly by institutions of higher education and must be used for financial assistance for students as well as for qualifying institutional purposes.


“Virginia’s colleges and universities rank amongst the top in the nation, and we must do everything in our power to ensure that all Virginians have equitable access to these institutions, regardless of wealth or income level,” said Senator Mamie Locke, Chair of the Senate Finance and Appropriations Higher Education Subcommittee. “I am proud of the work that we have done in recent years to address the affordability of higher education. The dedication of these federal funds continues those efforts and is particularly impactful during these challenging times for students.”

The Governor’s proposal also commits $10 million to enhance the Online Virginia Network, which facilitates online coursework and degrees from George Mason University, Old Dominion University, James Madison University, and community colleges.

“Over the last year, we saw students delay or pause their pursuit of higher education during the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Delegate Betsy Carr, Chair of the House Appropriations Higher Education Subcommittee. “This funding signals our dedication to ensuring that students in need of financial aid are able to access it, especially as we confront the ripple effects of the COVID-19 pandemic.”

“Today, we are following through on our commitment to Virginia’s students and investing not simply in financial aid but in the Commonwealth’s future,” said Delegate Chris Hurst, member of the House Appropriations Higher Education Subcommittee. “This funding will open the doors for higher education to low- and middle-income Virginians across the Commonwealth.”

“Higher education faced numerous challenges over the past 16 months, and it was an especially difficult time for our students,” said Timothy Sands, President of Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University. “For many who were already facing financial strain, the impact of COVID-19 threatened to push their higher education dream out of reach. We are grateful to the Governor and General Assembly for these additional funds to support financial aid at this critical time, and for their continued investment in the future of our students and the Commonwealth.”

In May, Governor Northam and General Assembly leaders released a joint statement outlining shared priorities for allocating the $4.3 billion in federal funds available to the Commonwealth from the American Rescue Plan. Throughout this week and in advance of the August 2nd special session, Governor and legislative leaders are highlighting proposals for allocating these funds and have announced $250 million for school modernization and air quality improvements in school buildings, $411.5 million to reduce water pollution and increase access to clean water, $935.6 million to replenish the Unemployment Insurance Trust Fund and accelerate critical upgrades to the Virginia Employment Commission, and $485 million to strengthen Virginia’s behavioral health system.

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