by Bryan Sullivan, Virginia Beach
The city of Virginia Beach is experiencing a crisis of leadership, as evidenced by the multiple shooting incidents of March 26, 2021 at the Virginia Beach oceanfront. Tragedies such as this one are invariably the result of a perfect storm of events and decision-making.
Since the 1990s, the majority of the Virginia Beach City Council, along with the surrounding established political leadership – despite having a referendum approved by the voters to stop using citywide voting to elect City Council members representing specific districts – has gone to great lengths to oppose the public will. In August 2020, by a 6-5 vote, the City Council again denied allowing the will of the voters to be heard via referendum. The result has been a growing tension within the city for a large percentage of voters are being denied representation. Without a voice on the Council, voters being only human, naturally become inclined to mistrust and express a degree of hostility towards Virginia Beach leadership.
This opposition to the will of the voters also resulted in considerable taxpayer dollars having being spent to defend the unpopular practice in federal court, on the losing side of the argument. Meantime, the larger political establishment remained silent. An additional consequence of these actions was the General Assembly stepping in and passing a law requiring that practice to change.
In May 2019 a deadly tragedy unfolded in the Virginia Beach Municipal Complex. The citizens of Virginia Beach cried out for change, asking for action to be taken to prevent a similar tragedy from happening. Issues of a hostile work place began to arise. But in January 2020 the city Council led by Mayor Bobby Dyer, the Mayor being a friend of the local Tea Party, voted 6-4 in favor of a proclamation declaring the city of Virginia Beach to be a Second Amendment sanctuary. The mayor listening to citizens who spoke in support of the proclamation, then boarded a bus to speak out in the next city. The message was clear to me: “everyone is welcome to come to the Virginia Beach oceanfront, and don’t forget to bring your guns.” The issues that led to this municipal complex tragedy remain unresolved.
In the summer of 2020, the social justice movement swept our city, our Commonwealth and the nation. This was when the infamous “red truck” incident occurred at the oceanfront, when Virginia Beach police actively assisted the driver of the red truck, who had driven recklessly into a crowd of peaceful BLM activists, to flee the scene. After public outcry, the Virginia Beach police could not find the driver, but news media could and so did Norfolk law enforcement. By the end of the summer, the calls for an independent and properly funded police citizens review board with the authority to investigate reached the city Council. Such boards have a history of improving public faith and trust in their police. But once again, rather than heed the call of the citizens, the larger political establishment had no objection to the city Council voting, in secret, 6–5, not to authorize such a board.
Now, as we head into the summer of 2021, we are dealing with a crisis of lives lost at the oceanfront. An issue has arisen regarding a multimillion-dollar project which began in 2018 that was to provide state-of-the-art body cams for all Virginia Beach police officers by 2020. That project was paid in full with taxpayer money. These body cams are designed to turn on the moment a police officer withdraws their sidearm from its holster. Yet we do not have bodycam footage from a Virginia Beach police officer who had done just that. The end result is another life lost, another investigation generating national attention, and another potential multi-million-dollar civil settlement for excessive deadly force. Noteworthy is the fact that the Virginia Beach Police Department was one of the last police departments in the country to respect the will of its citizens and utilize body cams. Bodycams have a history of improving public trust in police departments, when used properly.
While we may never know the exact causes of our recent gun violence, the issues raised here do not exist in a vacuum. They are part of a larger milieu. Multitudes of Virginia Beach residents keep enduring flood water up to their front door year after year, generating a sense of perceived indifference from the majority of the City Council, supported by the silence of the local political establishment, who remain focused on the big money that is the Virginia Beach Oceanfront.