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Police Reform with Representatives Bobby Scott and Donald McEachin

Rog Cogswell / Creative Commons

For the only two African American members of the Commonwealth's delegation in Congress, the House passage of policing reform last evening was personal.

When Newport News Democrat Bobby Scott came to Washington in 1993 he made the history books: He became the first African American to represent Virginia in Congress since reconstruction. Even on the day House Democrats passed legislation aimed at overhauling policing in America, Scott was unusually blunt – his mind was on the 1992 beating of an African American man the year he won election.   

“We thought that more would have been said after Rodney King," he says.

As of 2017, Scott’s had another Virginia lawmaker serving with him on the Congressional Black Caucus: Donald McEachin whose district stretches from Richmond to Hampton Roads. He’s a descendent of slaves, which is why he says it’s meaningful to not only witness this moment – but to be a part of it.

“Folks are finally ready to confront 401 years of systematic racism in this country, and it's been gratifying, quite frankly, to see people of all ages and backgrounds and races come together,” says McEachin.

The Democratic bill bans chokeholds and ends warrants that allow officers to enter homes without knocking first, among other items. Congressman Scott says it’s a vital first step.

“At some point, we need national standards," he explains. "One of which is you cannot use lethal force when there is no impending danger.”

Virginia Republicans didn't speak for or against the House legislation in the floor debate, but all four of them voted against the Democrat's bill.

This report, provided by Virginia Public Radio, was made possible with support from the Virginia Education Association.