Portsmouth mayor wants committee to look at race issues in the city

Posted at 8:58 PM, Apr 22, 2019
and last updated 2019-04-23 17:48:03-04

PORTSMOUTH, Va. - Portsmouth Mayor John Rowe wants to create a new group called the Portsmouth Cultural Harmony Committee that would be made up of 16 to 22 citizens.

"Besides living within the City of Portsmouth, the members of the Committee shall be persons who care about social justice, equal opportunity in all aspects of life, and cross-cultural understanding," stated an email sent by the mayor.

It stated, "The purpose of the Committee is to explore issues of race, ethnicity, equity, and culture within the Portsmouth community and to develop program recommendations to City Council on how the City can live to the commitments stated above and celebrate its rich diversity."

The mayor said he sent the email to his fellow council members last Friday and said it was discussed during a work session Monday night.

Leaders with the NAACP in Portsmouth traveled to the FBI headquarters in Chesapeake to voice their concerns and speak directly to law enforcement on Monday.

Tonya Chapman

Portsmouth NAACP President James Boyd and a few others spoke to reporters after leaving the office Monday afternoon.

The FBI recently confirmed to News 3 they are investigating allegations of racism against the Portsmouth Police Department, but specific details weren’t provided.

The former Portsmouth Police Chief Tonya Chapman wrote a scathing four-page letter stating she was forced to resign by the city manager, saying she believed race played a factor.

She also wrote that she had never witnessed the degree of bias and acts of systemic racism in her 30-year career in law enforcement and public safety.

The letter sparked outrage and left many people asking questions.

“We believe this is a systemic problem. This is bigger than one person’s job. This is about the livelihoods of black citizens in that city,” said Boyd. “We believe there is a deep-seated system of racism there, and we’re hell-bent on destroying it. That was our nature of the conversation today, to provide the FBI with our concerns.”

The FBI said their leadership team meets regularly with local civil rights groups to ensure they maintain open communication and encourage our community partners to bring them their concerns at any time.

Boyd said some specifics of the meeting couldn’t be discussed, but he said the nature of the meeting was to express various concerns.

“The Portsmouth NAACP is not going to stop. This is the first step in a number of things that we are going to put forth to get some truth,” said Boyd.

According to an email sent to News 3 from Mayor Rowe, "The Committee shall operate with two "co-chairs" who Council will initially appoint. After the initial appointment of the co-chairs, a majority of the membership of the Committee shall elect co-chairs to fill any vacancies in the position of "co-chair. The Committee shall initially meet with City Council quarterly, and it shall make at least quarterly reports to City Council on its progress and recommendations. The City Council shall provide the Committee a budget of $50,000."

Tuesday, Interim Police Chief Angela Greene issued the following statement regarding the FBI's investigation:

We are taking the allegations being made against the Portsmouth Police Department seriously and are cooperating fully with the FBI.  The City of Portsmouth has an extremely dedicated, diverse police force committed to making our streets, neighborhoods and schools safer.

Portsmouth City Manager Dr. Lydia Pettis Patton also issued a statement on behalf of the city regarding the circumstances surrounding Chapman's resignation:

The City of Portsmouth was proud to hire Virginia’s first female African American police chief and, during her tenure with the Portsmouth Police Department, there is no doubt that Tonya Chapman made great strides to improve community relations, further diversify our police force, and make our neighborhoods safer.  Her departure is an employment issue based solely on concerns with leadership of the department. We remain committed to a diverse police force that is representative of the community. The allegations being made against the Portsmouth Police Department are very serious and the City will cooperate fully with the appropriate authorities to make sure they are properly addressed.

The idea of this committee will be discussed at Tuesday's city council meeting.