On the morning of Friday, May 10, 2019, residents of western Henrico County’s Farmington neighborhood in the ethnically and religiously diverse Quioccasin community awoke to find symbols of hate and the words “White Power” spray painted on signs and fences throughout the neighborhood. The Henrico Police Department is investigating the vandalism as a potential hate crime.
The Hate Crime Statistics Act defines hate crimes as those that “manifest evidence of prejudice based on race, gender or gender identity, religion, disability, sexual orientation, or ethnicity.” Hate crimes can be committed against people, property, or society, and can include violent attacks and vandalism. While the content of the graffiti makes this categorization seem obvious, out-of-touch Tuckahoe District Supervisor Pat O’Bannon was quick to downplay the seriousness of the offense in an interview with WTVR, instead dismissing the incident as a benign, apolitical attention-getting ploy by someone who doesn’t necessarily believe in white supremacy. In contrast, the neighborhood resident who was also interviewed took the potential threat seriously and was fearful enough to refuse being identified on screen.
With the increase in hate crimes over the last five years well-documented, the resident’s caution seems realistically prudent, while Supervisor O’Bannon’s reaction is typical of the willful – and dangerous – ignorance found in the bubble of privilege that is firmly entrenched in other parts of the district. The FBI reported 7,175 incidents of hate crimes in 2017, the most recent data available. This is a 17% increase over 2016, and shows an increase for three consecutive years from the 5,479 incidents reported in 2014.
For an elected official to be unaware of this data, or worse, to deny its veracity, is reprehensible, and Supervisor O’Bannon is not alone. The Farmington neighborhood also falls in Virginia’s 12th State Senate District, and the Republican incumbent, Senator Siobhan Dunnavant, is equally guilty. At the Encounter RVA forum held at the Holocaust Museum last November, Rabbi Michael Knopf of Temple Beth El asked the Senator her thoughts on the anti-Semitic murder spree in Pittsburgh that had occurred just ten days prior and the established rise in activity of hate groups. The Senator responded, “I don’t know if there’s a rise or not.” When Rabbi Knopf cited his sources, Dunnavant continued to cast doubt on hard evidence, responding, “I don’t know, I’d have to look into that, to be honest.” Naturally, she also dodged his question about possible solutions, which by necessity would require elected Republicans to have enough integrity to call out fellow Republicans for their frequent dog whistles, and in the case of Trump, the constant, virulent hate speech and outright encouragement of dangerous behavior from the top of the party.
The day following the discovery of the spray painted hate speech in the Henrico neighborhood, members of Together We Will – Henrico, including Veena Lothe, who is seeking the Democratic nomination in the June 11 primary to face Senator Dunnavant this November, met in Farmington to clean up the graffiti. Veena Lothe is literally cleaning up the mess left by the tacit acceptance or outright denial of hate crimes by Senator Dunnavant and other elected Republicans. Veena states:
“Hate has no home in our community.
Today my friends from Together We Will – Henrico and I took some time to clean the hate speech found in the Farmington community yesterday. We must confront the bigotry and hatred we’ve seen rise over the past 3 years. This racism comes in many forms: complicity, dog whistles, hate speech, and hate crimes; but the intention is the same: to instill fear and division.
Our community is vibrant, growing, and diverse. I’m proud to be an active member of this community, but we have work to do. Today was a first step, and I look forward to working with our community members to heal together.”
Subsequently, on Sunday, May 12, a significant amount of graffiti expressing threats of gun violence against multiple minority groups was discovered at Godwin High School, further evidence of the frequency with which hate crimes are occurring locally and underlining the seriousness with which our elected officials need to respond to these acts.
Intentional Commitment to Greater Diversity
To continue to create change in our community, we must further expand the spectrum of diverse representation – and viewpoints – in our General Assembly. Veena Lothe is the daughter of immigrants from India who settled in West Virginia so that her father, a doctor, could provide medical services to the impoverished and underserved population of the Appalachian coalfields. Her parents instilled in her the values of hard work and dedication to the community, which Veena took to heart as a dedicated grassroots activist during the Blue Waves of 2017 and 2018. An Ivy League-educated civil rights, union-side labor, and immigration attorney, Veena has a keen understanding of the issues and policies impacting Virginians of all backgrounds and a fierce determination to bring progressive change to the Commonwealth.
Veena’s progressive platform includes bold leadership positions on gun sense legislation, Virginia’s “right to work” law, and climate change. She has earned an impressive array of endorsements, including those of Virginia Secretary of Education Atif Qarni; IMPACT, the largest group in the U.S. dedicated to electing progressive Indian-American candidates; Desis for Progress, a network of progressive South Asians; and Together We Will RVA, an 11,000 strong grassroots organization that trains activists and supports progressive leaders.
At the recent Trailblazers: Virginia Women Inspiring Progress forum hosted by Congressman Donald McEachin (D-4), Congresswoman Abigail Spanberger (D-7) stressed the importance of being “intentional and committed” to creating a larger, broader spectrum of diverse leadership by looking outside our immediate bubbles to break down stereotypes and create pathways for women, particularly minority women. When elected, Veena Lothe will be the first South Asian in the Virginia General Assembly, a significant and historic milestone for one of the fastest growing ethnic groups that increased almost 70% between the 2000 and 2010 U.S. census.
Vote for Veena Lothe in the Democratic Primary on June 11 to bring broader diversity, a fierce legal intellect, and a tireless grassroots champion who will fight for people of all backgrounds to Virginia’s General Assembly.