Community News

COMMUNITY DEMANDS JUSTICE IN POWHATAN HATE CRIME

Originally published in the Summer 2022 edition of The Virginia Defender, issue 69, printed July 27. Reproduced here for accessibility and archival purposes. To find other stories in the Summer 2022 issue or to download the full PDF, see this post. For the full web catalog, see our Full Issues page.

Staff Report

Close to 200 people gathered May 1 outside Richmond’s United Nations Church on Cowardin Avenue to support a Black teenager who says he was the victim of a vicious hate crime – one that was then covered up by the Powhatan County police force.

Back on Sept. 12, 2020, Jerry Chambers Jr. was at a party in the county when he became unconscious. While he was out, according to a story in the Richmond Times-Dispatch, “The N-word was written in all caps behind his right ear. A swastika was drawn on his jawline. ‘White Lives MATTER’ lined his head in black marker next to ‘F- — BLM.’

Flanked by his father and mother, Jerry Chambers Jr. tells a Richmond rally May 1 of his experience at the hands of racists in Powhatan County. Photo by Ana Edwards.

“White partygoers snapped photos of a dildo pressed up against his face. Then when he woke up to use the bathroom, they draped the 16-year-old Black teenager with a Confederate flag and captured that, too, before circulating the pictures on social media.”

As of the rally, none of the alleged perpetrators had been brought to justice.

“How would you feel if you were physically abused with a sex toy?” Chambers asked the crowd at the rally. “How would you feel if you were surrounded by guns all night while also being the only Black man in the room? How much more do I have to express for law enforcement to do anything about it?”

Two days after the incident, Chambers reported the incident to the Powhatan Sheriff’s Office. According to the RTD, the office stated that “it encouraged the family to meet with the chief prosecutor the next day, but the parents didn’t show up.”

However, “An April 18, 2022, email supplied by the family showed Chambers … was not eligible for statewide victim support because the state had ‘not received the police report from Powhatan, the jurisdiction in which the crime occurred and was reported.’”

Now, according to the newspaper, county law enforcement is claiming that “the one-year statute of limitations for prosecuting individuals for misdemeanor assault had expired, which means no arrest can be made.”

However, a special prosecutor from the Petersburg Commonwealth’s Attorney’s office has now been assigned to the case, which also is being investigated by the FBI; the federal statute of limitations for prosecuting hate crimes is seven years.

In addition to members of the youth’s family, other speakers at the Richmond rally included Jacob Blake Sr., the father of the man who was left partially paralyzed in August 2020 after being shot seven times by a white police officer in Kenosha, Wis.; former Richmond City Councilmember Sa’ad El-Amin; and King Salim Khalfani, a former executive director of the Virginia State Conference NAACP and now a Criminal Justice Organizer with the Virginia Interfaith Center for Public Policy.

Rally organizers announced that another gathering on the issue would take place later that week at the Powhatan County Courthouse.

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