Originally published to the Virginia Defender Facebook page on February 27, 2019. Reproduced here for accessibility and archival purposes.
By Phil Wilayto
RICHMOND, VA Feb. 27 — Both grief and determination hung over a rally yesterday outside the Virginia State Capitol to support the family of a man killed by a Portsmouth police officer.
On April 22, 2015, 18-year-old William Chapman II was fatally shot by Officer Stephen Rankin, who encountered the young man in a Walmart parking lot while looking for an alleged shoplifting suspect. Rankin is white; Chapman was African-American.
Rankin claimed self-defense, but a jury found him guilty of voluntary manslaughter. The officer previously had been exonerated in another fatal shooting. This time he received a sentence of two and a half years – one of the very few times in recent memory that a Virginia police officer has been found guilty and sentenced for a fatal shooting.
Rankin has since been released from prison, but is appealing his conviction. Yesterday his attorneys argued before the Virginia Supreme Court for a new trial, citing what they said were errors committed in the first trial. If the now-former officer were convicted a second time, he could receive a longer sentence.
Members of the Chapman family and their supporters attended the hearing. Chapman’s uncle Earl Perry later said he thought things had gone “50-50.” The court is expected to take months to issue a decision in the appeal.
At the rally, Perry was joined by representatives of three other Virginia families who recently lost relatives to police shootings. All four speakers related the heartbreak of losing a loved one to police violence and stated their determination to continue to fight for justice.
Chapman family supporter JaPharii Jones of Black Lives Matter 757 called on the Virginia General Assembly to pass a bill addressing police brutality and excessive force.
Following the rally, the crowd formed a prayer circle and then released red and black balloons symbolizing those who have been killed by police.