Loudoun County NAACP President Phillip Thompson was among those who spoke out forcefully after a historic African American school in Ashburn was vandalized on the night of Sept. 30. He raised concerns about the intentions of the vandals, how public officials responded, and the need to better protect African American historical sites generally. Last month, five Loudoun County teenagers pled guilty to one count of destruction of private property and one count of unlawful entry as a result of charges brought in connection with the vandalism. Thompson offered the following comments on Feb. 2.
I have mixed feeling about this because on the one hand I did believe the kids should not have been punished too harshly and that this was a teachable moment.
I was also concerned with what I felt was an almost lynch mob mentality that was developing, and I believed much of it was false bravado on behalf of our local politicians and some of our citizenry based on the fact that the building sat there for all that time and no one sought to do anything to protect it.
It was even left out of the County’s 2003 survey of African American Historical sites. So the outrage and concern on behalf of our politicians was amusing, but equally dangerous because it set a tone of revenge — which to me sounded like a cover for ignoring the loss of this and many other African American historical sites in this county.
As Pastor Michelle Thomas, a friend of mine, pointed out early on, this was not normal racist graffiti and that some of it may have a deeper meaning in the East Asian community. Be that as it may, once it was determined that youngesters were involved, my hope was that cooler heads would prevail and the punishment would be appropriate to allow these kids to recover and learn from their mistake.
What is troubling is the almost cavalier manner in which our local Commonwealth’s Attorney decided this would not meet the definition of a hate crime. He took no real time to confer with the community and provided no analysis of his decision. My feeling is that it should have been initially charged as a hate crime and then maybe allowed to be plea bargained.
Make no mistake: this was done based on hate, at the time, and racial animosity. In the end one has to ask the question as to if this does not meet the definition of a hate crime, what does? Also, if this is not at least initially charged as a hate crime then where is the deterrent impact? How are future incidents such as this deterred by this action taken by our local criminal justice system.
My last concern goes the administration of justice in Loudoun County. We know that our local jail has a larger representation of blacks and Hispanics than their numbers represent in the greater population. We as in the NAACP have heard reports of overzealous charging of minorities for such nebulous things such as “hindering.”
My question to our criminal justice system, including police, prosecutors and judges is whether similarly situated Black and Hispanic will receive the same “educational” or “teachable” treatment when they come before the criminal justice system for making bad judgements? This is what we need to keep an eye on.
The bottom line is that justice must be fair. Based on the criteria and issues raised, was justice served in this case? I am not sure, and I believe we must watch to see how the next minority defendant caught in a similar situation is treated.
Phillip E. Thompson, Esq.
NAACP, Loudoun Chapter