RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — Virginia police chiefs will be allowed to impose curfews during civil unrest starting in July.
Gov. Glenn Youngkin (R) signed a bill sponsored by Senate Minority Leader Tommy Norment (R-James City) that will let local law enforcement chiefs set curfews for up to 24 hours if there is “an imminent threat of any civil commotion or disturbance in the nature of a riot which constitutes a clear and present danger.”
Local governing bodies, leaders and elected sheriffs can already take steps to enact curfews, but Sen. Norment’s bill was presented during the 2023 General Assembly session as a way to “streamline” the process for police chiefs in cities.
The Virginia NAACP urged Gov. Youngkin to veto the bill, which received bipartisan support in both chambers of the Virginia General Assembly, over concerns that it gives police chiefs and city leaders broad discretion on what constitutes a civil disturbance.
But the bill stipulates that any police chief’s decision to impose a curfew in a city would need to be made alongside the mayor and city manager. Still, questions and concerns remain for the Virginia NAACP.
“We are disappointed that the governor signed a bill with so many questions that are unanswered,” Virginia NAACP President Robert Barnette said in an interview Monday.
Barnette said the Virginia NAACP shared its issues with the bill with Democrats and Republicans in the General Assembly, including questions about the lack of a provision in it requiring county police chiefs to take the same steps as those in cities.
When presenting the bill on the House of Delegates floor, Del. Keith Hodges (R-Middlesex) said it wouldn’t impact counties but later acknowledged it would for counties such as Fairfax that don’t elect their top law enforcement officers.
Barnette also told 8News that he was worried the new law would have a disproportionate impact on people of color, calling the potential Class 1 misdemeanor charge — which carries up to a year in jail and a $2,500 fine — for violators “far too excessive.”
“This could lead to more people caught in the criminal justice pipeline,” Barnette said. “The penalty for this, a Class 1 misdemeanor, is far too excessive, and we’ve seen this snowball to unaffordable fees that have been detrimental to people who can’t pay.”
A spokesperson for Sen. Norment did not immediately respond to a request for an interview with the state senator.
While the curfew shouldn’t last more than a day, the bill states that it could be extended with a vote from the local governing body or a court order.
Police chiefs should specify the hours of the curfew, the area to which it applies and make “reasonable efforts” to inform the public before it goes into effect, according to the bill.
Under the legislation, exceptions should be made for those traveling to or from home, work, a place of worship, the press, military and medical personnel and others.
The legislation comes after civil unrest and nationwide racial justice protests in 2020 in the wake of the police killings of George Floyd in Minneapolis and Breonna Taylor in Kentucky.
Leaders across the country and in Virginia, including then-Gov. Ralph Northam (D) and Richmond Mayor Levar Stoney, announced curfews in response to the 2020 protests.