Stirring Up Racism

Against the Current, No. 139, March/April 2009

Mike Parker & Margaret Jordan

In an attempt to discredit the progressive candidates, the Richmond Police Officers Association (RPOA) put out a flyer which claimed the Latino community and particularly undocumented immigrants were the source of Richmond’s drug and violence problem and that the progressive candidates opposed police efforts to control it.

In a city which is about 35% African-American, 30% Latino (many undocumented), 20% white, and 15% Asian and others and suffers from large unemployment, homelessness and crime, the leaflet was an attempt to exacerbate racial divides, promote “tough-on-crime” politics, to discredit the progressives and support the “Chevron 3.”

When the RPOA’s racist and xenophobic flyer came out, instead of trying to ignore or hide the attacks, a network in the Latino community, the progressive campaigns, and other progressives mobilized to publicize the flyer and fight back. They demanded that city officials, candidates and everyone else denounce it. An important boost to the counterattack was the support of Chief of Police, who quickly denounced the flyer as racist and harmful to ongoing efforts to build genuine alliances of the police department and the community.

The Mayor put the issue on the city council agenda and led the official criticism of the hit-piece. As a result, the city council passed a resolution denouncing the flyer and the RPOA-endorsed candidates had to dissociate themselves from the flyer which was intended to support their campaigns.

The racist flyer became the symbol for the difference between the candidates’ campaigns. The progressives were for a Richmond that united the large African-American, Latino, Asian and white communities while the incumbents represented the politics of pitting them against each other.

This great community response by no means solves the great race divide in Richmond, and racism still played a big role in the election. We believe that a key reason for Beckles’ defeat was a last-minute flyer in support of the African-American Chevron 3 candidate and given wide distribution in the African-American community that took the position that Jovanka (a Black Latina) should not be counted as Black — because, after all, she speaks fluent Spanish and is an immigrant.

ATC 139, March-April 2009