Public Offender

stephanie morales campaign

Let’s take a trip down Memory Lane. I’m from Virginia.  More specifically, the eastern part of the state known as Tidewater or colloquially Hampton Roads. I tend to claim the entire region as home more than a single city. I was raised and lived most of my life in Virginia Beach. I’m from, where my parents lived upon my birth, the city of Norfolk.  However, the actual place of my birth, where I was physically born was in Portsmouth.

Portsmouth is a bit of a curious city. It’s pre-history is quite the story. Goes back to one of our state’s earliest settlers, Nathaniel Bacon, who was in a dispute with the loyalist governor, William Berkeley,  because he ruled against the settlers in a dispute with local Indian tribes. He, along with hundreds of other settlers from Tidewater took up arms against the governor and lead  a revolt known to history as Bacon’s Rebellion, which Thomas Jefferson considers a prelude to the American Revolution itself. In it’s aftermath, one of Bacon’s lieutenants, a landowner named William Carver, was arrested and hanged. Years later, the land he owned was given to local politician, William Craford, who had it surveyed and convinced the General Assembly to establish the city as Portsmouth, Virginia.

That’s it’s pre-history. The modern history is no less rambunctious. Small, with a tightly compact population, Portsmouth is notable in the region for the urban decay. Growing up, the city was known for it’s high crime, rampant poverty and political dysfunction. However, over the last few years, much of that has changed. Businesses have slowly been coming back, crime(or the reputation of it) has receded, and this has come with a new brand of political leaders as well. Among them is the city’s Commonwealth’s Attorney, Stephanie Morales.

Stephanie is a Hampton Roads native. She graduated from Norfolk State University and attended William & Mary for law school. Initially elected in 2015, Stephanie gained prominence in 2016 when she prosecuted a white police officer for killing a black man, which was only the 5th time there was such a prosecution of over 10,000 such shootings in the last 10 years. And this should have been her story. An enterprising Commonwealth’s Attorney daring to make Black Lives Matter in a field where it’s typically seen that they matter less.

Unfortunately, this week has seen many across Portsmouth call for her to be recalled from office. Why? Prosecutorial misconduct? No. Corruption or abuse of power? No. Believe it or not, her egregious error was to be in a rap video. Yes, she is being shamed and pressed to be removed from her office because she decided to support her kid’s interest in music production and get her family involved in making a video. The video itself could be described anywhere from, at worse, cheesy to light-hearted fun and even creatively entertaining. Looking at the video myself, there’s a interlude where Stephanie raps to a beat. Another where she and her husband dance together, in what could just as easily be a ballroom waltz. The rest of the video is of her husband and kids enjoying the summer weather.

There is absolutely nothing threatening, sensational or otherwise salacious about the video or her behavior in it. Yet, there have been segments of the community that has saw fit to question her ability to be a role model to her kids and other kids who see her in a (gasp, clutch my pearls) rap video(oh dear heavens!!!!). And, yes, there are others who are attempting to have her removed from office for it.

Now, far be it for me to tell anyone who should or should not be their role model. But Stephanie Morales is one of the more impressive persons I’ve ever had the pleasure of meeting. Not only does she has a delightful personality, but she’s CLEARLY dedicated to her job and to her community. More than that, she has a beautiful family, which is the one thing that is visibly shown in the video, but as evident of the video itself, she cares about her family and supporting her children, which is exactly what we ask of our mothers. But when that mother is also a city’s top law enforcement officer barely into her 30’s, there’s is nothing but commendation she should be given.

Nevermind her kids, Stephanie Morales is MY role model. And I’m older than she is.

The real debate should be whether or not she has bars. Not whether she should be behind bars. Or anything remotely close to it. But to question her sincerity, dedication, motherhood and womanhood because she danced in a video is, well, let’s call it what it actually is: slut-shaming. People are trying to censor and harass and demean her for doing nothing more than what we’ve all watched local police do dozens of time through the summer with their lip-synch challenge videos, singing and dancing in recorded videos. But when Stephanie Morales does a video with her family she’s somehow worse than they are? A nation full of police can sing and dance in rap, rock, pop, country, grunge and folk music, but somehow it’s not okay for a dark-skinned black woman to do the exact same thing with her family? Because you know if this was Stephen Morales instead of Stephanie Morales, no one would care.

The blatant reactionary hypocrisy is only out matched by the dogged yet imbecilic sexism.

There has been a lot of wrong in the history of Portsmouth, Virginia. Hopefully, one of these days, years, decades or centuries, we’ll learn to appreciate when our local leaders that are just right as they are.



It’s Labor Day, Virginia… Where Were They?

davenport and rouse

It’s Labor Day in Hampton Roads and we are in Virginia.  The Commonwealth where political campaigning is practically a year-round sport.  We are unlike most states, where we have pretty significant elections every, single year.  Of course, the even numbered years there are congressional elections and the attention-grabbing presidential race.  But in the odd numbered years, we don’t just have random special elections every once and then, but we elect our governors, state senators and House of Delegates on those years.  So with that in mind, our state’s longest serving member of Congress, Bobby Scott has held an annual Labor Day Cookout in Newport News and he’s held this event, successfully since the mid-1970s.

For 42 years, this cookout, which is held by one of our state’s most prominent politicians, months before our annual election day, you can imagine is attended by an insane number of political leaders, activist, volunteers, staffers and candidates for office and they have come from across the commonwealth, and sometimes across the nation.  Yes, the event is held in the deep reaches of the 3rd Congressional District, but it is extraordinarily uncommon not to see candidates from across the entire region in attendance.  Even if your district or constituencies or prospective voters that could vote for you are not in the district, the event is so well attended by the party-faithful that candidates still come to be seen, to be heard, if not to have their voters, who do attend, see them and greet them, but to possibly meet donors, supporters who will work for the campaign and volunteers who will commit time.  It’s almost a one-stop shop for progressive campaigning.

So, I can’t help but to wonder where were some of Virginia Beach’s most prominent candidates?  Granted, again, I know this not in Virginia Beach and I’ll readily accept the fact that it’s very possible that with the hundreds of people there, I could have just missed them.  It’s possible that they were there and had further commitments and left early.  But if I’m not wrong, these two candidates skipped out of one of the biggest and most well attended political events of the state, then I could not have been the only one to have noticed.

And I can’t help but to wonder why.

Admittedly, I have my suspicions and my ego is well enough for me to assume why.  It’s possibly they did not know, which would be troubling.  That tells me they’re rather strongly disconnected from local progressive politics or disconnected from certain communities that drive such an event.  Or both.  But putting the cards on the table, Bobby Scott, who is the most prominent African American politician in Virginia, represents a heavily black district with a event that is deep in the heavily black district.  I can see how such optics and surroundings can make certain folks uncomfortable and less likely to attend.  It’s to be expected.  But while that may be a valid reason for typical guest(it really shouldn’t be), that reason fails for a candidate for public office.

So to put it bluntly, if Ben Davenport does not have at least one black voice around him or in his campaign to tell him, “hey, you might want to attend this” then that is a problem.  It’s the same sort of problem of privilege of being able to ignore minority voices at your convenience.  Whether it’s purposefully or as a matter of happenstance, if you can’t filter in voices to tell you things like this to keep your ear connected to groups you are not a part of but still have to represent, then you’re doing yourself as big of a disservice as you will be the rest of us if you get elected.

This goes double for Aaron Rouse.  Ben Davenport may have the convenient excuse of being disconnected from the minority community.  Aaron Rouse is a African American.  How he could miss out at the largest gathering of African American political activist in the state is jarring to say the least.  Now, unlike Ben who’s run for office before, Rouse is new.  But I know he doesn’t have “new” voices around him working on his campaign.  If they don’t know better to have their African American candidate at events like this, then I can’t help but to question his sincerity.  If not his awareness.  Both of them.

Now, I just want to reiterate again, that I’m not saying they weren’t there, or that they even had to be there.  I was not there for the entire event, but I was there when most of the other recognized candidates, elected officials and party leaders were.  The organizer in me is okay with them not being at events outside of their district.  Particular if there are events in their district with voters that will certainly be voting for them. But with two candidate, where there are already plenty of progressive voters validly questioning whether or not each of these candidates actually care about progressive issues, it sure would have gone a long way to assuage our fears.

So do they know there are those questioning their sincerity?  Or do they not care?

Thanks to their lack of presence, the question deserves to be asked.