Community News


Originally published in the Winter 2022 edition of the Virginia Defender, issue 67, printed February 3. Reproduced here for accessibility and archival purposes. To find other stories in the Winter 2022 issue or to download the full PDF, see this post. For the full web catalog, see our Full Issues page.

By Phil Wilayto

A guilty plea, but no jail time.

That’s how things worked out for Richmond community organizer Omari Al-Qadaffi, who was sentenced Jan. 18 to 30 days in jail on two misdemeanor counts, but with all time suspended. The 41-year-old was also placed on probation.

The charges resulted from an anti-eviction protest held July 1, 2020, outside the John Marshall Courts Building in downtown Richmond. About 75 people had gathered to demand the courts suspend evictions during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Toward the end of the protest, Al-Qadaffi, a housing rights advocate with the Legal Aid Justice Center, entered the courthouse, intending, he said, to sit in on eviction hearings scheduled that day.

Within minutes, he was pinned to the lobby floor by several sheriff’s deputies, prompting the crowd outside to bang on the lobby windows and call for his release. A plate glass window was shattered.

Al-Qadaffi, who is Black, was charged with two felony counts of assault and battery of a law enforcement officer and two misdemeanor counts of trespassing and obstruction. Irena Schunn, a white woman arrested with Al-Qadaffi, received only the lesser charges. According to online records, Schunn’s charges were later dismissed.

In October, Al-Qadaffi pleaded guilty to the misdemeanor charges and was sentenced to 180 days in jail, with at least 120 days suspended. He appealed that sentence, resulting in the Jan. 18 hearing.

In handing down the sentence, Circuit Court Judge David F. Pugh said he was impressed with the many letters of support people had written for Al-Qadaffi. Pugh, a retired Newport News Circuit Court judge, had been assigned to hear the case after Richmond’s Circuit Court judges recused themselves.

In 2016, the research organizations Eviction Lab listed Richmond as having the second-highest rate of evictions among U.S. cities. Also making the Top Ten list were Hampton (#3), Newport News (#4), Norfolk (#6) and Chesapeake (#10).

Categories: Community News

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