Sanctuary Cities are Safer Cities

Friday the Times Dispatch reported news that, even my own pessimism didn’t have the foresight to anticipate:

Attorney General Jeff Sessions is scheduled to visit Richmond on Wednesday to speak with federal, state and local law enforcement officials about “efforts to combat violent crime and restore public safety,” the Department of Justice announced Friday evening.

Let’s be clear: Jeff Sessions is coming to Richmond to reinvent, yet again, the protean power of a call to public safety. He is hoping the tough on crime rhetoric that has devastated the US continues to sway the public. He hopes to wield that power to implement policies that will continue to abuse and disenfranchise communities that are already barely surviving the policies we have in place now.

Why Richmond?

Richmond is perfect. We led the nation in homicides a decade ago, and we are working very hard to move past that legacy. These strides unfortunately are not rooted in progressive policy changes*, but they are about changing the narrative of our city. Narratives can lead to policy changes, and I find our current position (cautiously, tentatively) hopeful. Our mayor supports sanctuary efforts. He wants the city to be seen as (and to become) queer friendly. There’s hope for Richmond right now.**

This week we need to remember that our hope for a better Richmond also breeds opportunity for those who would undermine change. We are a target, and when we see an uptick in violent crime we know that this will be noted by individuals like Sessions who can’t afford to see us succeed. Sessions traffics in hate and fear, and he hopes Richmond can be used as a tool to teach the public to fear, not just “crime,” but progressive change. With all of this in mind, here’s what you need to know for Wednesday:

  1. Yes, Richmond has seen an increase in violent crime. No, that does not make the city in 2017 comparable to the city in 1994.
  2. If we care about safety we must talk about policies that actually increase safety for those at risk. Impacted communities must lead those conversations. Violent crime in Richmond persistently targets those who are also targeted by over-policing and over-incarceration. If we want fewer homicides, we need to reject dichotomies of criminalization and victimization. In lieu of fetishizing criminalization, we need to talk about the systemic racism that creates space for violence in RVA.
  3. We need to say this loudly and often: immigrants, documented and undocumented, do not increase violent crime.

For our current administration to advance its policies, sanctuary cities must be seen as unsafe. If we are not careful, Richmond will become part of that narrative. Say this loudly and say it often: Sanctuary cities are safer cities. This should be the rallying cry of any counter protests that emerge.

*We remain the capital of a state that has some of the harshest criminal justice policies in the country.

**I don’t intent to diminish the impact of gentrification on the city and public policy. Rather, I believe that Richmond is experiencing successes and failures at once, after a long legacy dominated by failure.

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