July 1, 2020
Virginia Shows Why States Are Key to Transforming Justice

The recent police killings of Breonna Taylor, George Floyd, and Rayshard Brooks have reenergized a movement for racial justice and law enforcement accountability.

The power to make these changes is largely on the state level.

That is why Sister District’s focus on state legislative races is critical to reshaping a legal system that disproportionately ends and destroys Black lives.

Virginia is a perfect example of how flipping statehouses from red to blue can create real changes in criminal justice.

Republicans controlled the Virginia General Assembly for most of the last decade and reform efforts stalled. In 2017 Sister District helped bring Democrats to the edge of taking the House of Delegates.

Two years later, the blue wave continued and Democrats won both the Virginia House and Senate. This legislative session Democrats were finally able to pass measures that standardize police practices and reduce mass incarceration, in addition to appointing progressive judges. These new policies will have a meaningful impact on the lives of Virginians like Darnell Phillips.

Darnell was 18 years old when police arrested him for a sexual assault that he did not commit in Virginia Beach in 1990. Police said he “fit the description” of a black man wearing a Chicago Bulls hat, and claimed he confessed during an interrogation that was not recorded. He was convicted by an all-white jury and sentenced to 100 years in prison.

Decades later, despite DNA testing and statements from the victim proving his innocence, Darnell still hasn’t been able to clear his name.

Virginia had one of the worst laws for overturning wrongful convictions in the country.

This year Democratic lawmakers passed new measures that will give Darnell and other innocent people a fair shot at justice. One law creates fairer standards for overturning wrongful convictions. Another requires police to record suspect interrogations to prevent false or coerced confessions. Virginia also enacted other reforms that will:

The criminal justice system has to be changed state by state. Electing Democrats to state legislatures is an important step in stopping police abuse and racial inequality.