Black business owners are leading a revolution in a Virginia market haunted by its ties to the slave trade

A group of people in masks wearing headphones outside at night
UnlockingRVA’s silent party.

  • Richmond was the second-largest slave-trading hub in the United States.
  • Black business owners are reclaiming the city’s 17th Street Market with events and commerce.
  • “Our whole role is to restore the energy” while “honoring the past,” a yoga therapist and CEO said.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

“Richmond is the root of oppression.” That’s one of the ways Ashley J. Williams described the city she’s called home for 10 years.

She said she was speaking of the Virginia capital as a whole, as well as specifically the neighborhood of Shockoe Bottom and the 17th Street Market.

The 17th Street Market has been a site of commerce since the 1700s. Depending on whom you ask, that commerce included enslaved Africans, with the 17th Street Market being the site of an auction block. (Others say it was close to an auction block.) A few minutes away at Lumpkin’s Jail, or Devil’s Half Acre, enslaved people were jailed and tortured before being sold.

Richmond, with a prime location on the James River, was the second-largest slave-trading hub in the United States and the largest on the East Coast.

Today, less than a five-minute walk from the open-air 17th Street Market, you’ll see a few markers for the Slave Trail, but these are easy to miss if you’re not keen on the history.

But for Williams, a yoga therapist and the CEO of BareSOUL, who’s been with the studio since 2015, “there’s energy that’s very present.”

Ashley J. Williams
Ashley J. Williams, the CEO of BareSOUL.

“Our whole role is to restore the energy there and reenvision what it looks like to bring more life and vibrant energy while acknowledging and honoring the past,” she said.

The wellness space, especially yoga, can feel extremely white, she added. BareSOUL employs a dozen Black instructors, and each 17th Street practice begins with a brief history of the space that was once a source of pain.

“The 17th Street Market was a place where Black families were split up. It’s where the Black life was devalued. So the practice of yoga is a practice of connection. And it’s a practice of liberation of our minds,” Williams said.

A group of people on yoga mats in the street
BareSOUL yoga on 17th Street.

Williams isn’t the only small-business owner bringing new life to the space. After being approached by Richmond Parks and Recreation to host an outdoor, COVID-19-friendly event in August, Faith Wilkerson, UnlockingRVA‘s owner and founder, who’s run the event-planning company for five years, lined the concrete and cobblestone walkways with partyers donning neon-lit headphones playing old-school and current tunes.

“Every single moment I step foot on that market, it’s done with authority and purpose because it’s what the ancestors would want us to do. Black Americans have this special gift of turning tragedy and pain into triumph and longevity. You see so much joy in our guests’ faces as they dance the night away, and it makes the moment even more special,” Wilkerson said.

Faith Wilkerson
Faith Wilkerson, the founder of UnlockingRVA.

Participants in yoga or the silent disco usually work up an appetite, so Williams and Wilkerson do their parts to support and promote food vendors, especially Black-owned ones, in the area.

But the women acknowledged initial hiccups in businesses not exactly embracing their audiences, which tend to be predominantly Black.

Williams even recalled one business owner calling the police on a homeless yoga participant. Both women chalked it up to establishments adapting to new faces, new spaces, and a COVID-19 world.

Adrienne Cole Johnson and Melody Short, the cofounders of the Richmond Night Market, also experienced the same blowback from some owners in the area when they brought their nighttime affair to 17th Street two years ago. They said that quickly blew over once they introduced themselves.

The Richmond Night Market
The Richmond Night Market.

Johnson and Short described the work they and the Night Market do as reprogramming and reclaiming the space. The market operates on the second Saturday of each month in the summer to early fall.

Though they’re open to all vendors, Short acknowledged that the market naturally attracts a majority of Black businesses.

“I think people feel safe. It’s different when you’ve got Black women leading the charge because we welcome everybody – versus sometimes when it’s led by other groups. Black people, sometimes, we don’t feel welcome,” Short said. Being heavily invested in the businesses and the people behind the businesses is what she said keeps vendors returning year after year.

A kid selling food outside
A chef at the Richmond Night Market.

For their first in-person event since the pandemic, the market hosted about 20 vendors selling everything from art to handmade goods and food.

“We’re often, as Black people, putting our money in other communities,” Short said. The market allows them to flip the script, she added.

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Jeff Bezos refused to take elevators in Amazon’s old office and ran up 14 flights of stairs every day without breaking a sweat, his former assistant said

Amazon's former CEO Jeff Bezos smiles and gestures with his hands while talking in front of a pale blue background.
Jeff Bezos stepped down as Amazon CEO on 5 July.

  • Jeff Bezos refused to take elevators and ran up 14 flights of stairs every day, a former assistant told CNBC.
  • Jeff Bezos was like a “puppy” who “never tired,” Ann Hiatt, who worked for Bezos in the early 2000s, said.
  • Bezos stepped down as Amazon’s CEO after 27 years on Monday, handing over to Andy Jassy.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

Jeff Bezos would refuse to take elevators in Amazon’s old office building, choosing instead to run up 14 flights of stairs every day to the company’s floor, his former assistant told CNBC.

Ann Hiatt, who worked as Bezos’ executive assistant from 2002 to 2005, claimed Bezos never even broke a sweat running up and down the stairs.

“He’s like a puppy. He would do laps and he was never tired,” Hiatt told CNBC. “That’s Jeff. He couldn’t be held back.”

Hiatt worked with Bezos in the 16-story Pacific Medical Center tower in Seattle, a 1930s-era former military hospital that Amazon occupied from 1999 to 2011 – Bezos was in his mid-30s at the start of that time, and his mid-40s at the end. In 2011, Amazon moved to a sprawling campus in South Lake Union, Seattle.

Bezos stepped down as Amazon CEO after 27 years on Monday, after first announcing his departure in a letter to employees in February. He has handed over to Andy Jassy, formerly chief executive of Amazon Web Services.

Hiatt previously told the New York Times that Jassy was Bezos’ “brain double” in the early 2000s, and would shadow him in meetings and help challenge his thinking.

Since Bezos founded the company 1994, Amazon has grown into a$1.8 trillion dollar business, employed 1.3 million people, and made Bezos the richest man in the world, with a $203 billion net worth, according to Bloomberg’s Billionaires Index.

Jassy will now have to deal with criticism from lawmakers and employees over tough working conditions. Some Amazon delivery drivers previously told Insider that they had to urinate in bottles because their grueling schedules did not allow them enough time to go to the bathroom.

Bezos said that the company needed “to do a better job” for its workers in his 2020 letter to shareholders, after the National Labor Relations Board announced in April that a push by some Alabama employees to form a union had failed.

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RESULTS: Virginia voters select Terry McAuliffe as the Democratic nominee for governor

Terry MacAuliffe
Former Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe (D-VA) speaks to supporters while campaigning June 4, 2021 in Charlottesville, Virginia. McAuliffe, who previously served as governor from 2014-2018, is seeking a second term as Virginia holds its Democratic primary next Tuesday.

  • Virginia is holding Democratic primaries for key statewide offices on Tuesday.
  • Former Democratic Gov. Terry McAuliffe easily clinched the nomination for his old office.
  • Polls in Virginia closed at 7 p.m. ET.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

Virginia voters are casting their ballots for June 8th’s Democratic primaries for governor, lieutenant governor, and attorney general. Polls closed at 7 p.m. ET.

Governors can only serve one term at a time under the Virginia constitution, meaning current Democratic Gov. Ralph Northam can’t run for a second consecutive term.

Former Gov. Terry McAuliffe easily clinch the Democratic nomination for the governorship, which he previously held before Northam from 2014 to 2018.

The latest poll of the primary, conducted by Roanoke College, found McAuliffe leading the field by a wide margin. The poll, conducted from May 24 to June 1, surveyed 637 likely Democratic primary voters with a margin of error of ±3.9 points.

In the survey, 49% of likely Democratic voters said they had already voted or planned to vote for McAuliffe, 16% for House Delegate Jennifer Carroll Foy, 11% for Del. Jennifer McClellan, and 27% undecided. Two other candidates, Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax and Del. Lee Carter, polled in the single digits.

McAuliffe will face businessman Glenn Youngkin, who was chosen as the GOP nominee by a select number of party members in a May 8 ranked-choice party convention, with delegates casting their votes at locations around the state.

Virginia Republicans, who opted for the convention format over a traditional primary, selected Youngkin over two GOP members of the House of Delegates, Kirk Cox and Amanda Chase, and entrepreneur Pete Snyder.

McAuliffe is favored by election analysts to defeat Youngkin in the November general election in Virginia, which has trended from a swing state to solidly Democratic territory over the past two decades. The Virginia governor’s race is currently rated as “likely Democratic” by Inside Elections and the Cook Political Report, and as “leans Democratic” by the Crystal Ball at the University of Virginia Center for Politics.

Historically, however, Virginia gubernatorial elections have tended to be more difficult for the party that won the presidential election the prior year, so Democrats aren’t guaranteed a win.

The outcome of the open Democratic primary for lieutenant governor is far less certain. The Roanoke poll found that 45% of voters polled were undecided, with 16% supporting Democratic Del. Hala Ayala, 11% supporting Del. Sam Rasoul, also a Democrat, and the rest of the candidates polling in the single digits.

In the race for attorney general, Democratic incumbent Mark Herring faces a primary challenge from Del. Jerrauld “Jay” Jones, a fellow Democrat. The Roanoke College poll found that 50% of voters had voted for or planned to vote for Herring with 20% for Jones and 28% of voters undecided.

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A bad hurricane season could be the next headache for businesses already facing a supply shortage

iota monday morn
Satellite imagery captures Hurricane Iota bearing down on Nicaragua as a Category 5 hurricane on November 16, 2020. NOAA/NASA

  • It will be another active year for hurricanes following 2020’s record-breaking season.
  • The storms could cause problems for already struggling supply chains like lumber, oil, and pork.
  • “It’s a significant risk that all businesses need to be thinking about right now,” said AccuWeather.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

A bad Atlantic hurricane season may be the next disruption to the supply chain.

“It looks like another active year,” said AccuWeather Chief Meteorologist Jonathan Porter, “which is not good news.”

Items from lumber and housing supplies, to toilet paper and tampons, to gas and plastics, to pork and chicken, have been plagued by shortages caused by a sting of factors: Supply chains snarled in the coronavirus pandemic, backed-up ports, reverberations from the February Texas freeze, the Suez Canal blockage, worker scarcity, and the temporary shutdown of a vital oil pipeline, among other issues.

Though meteorologists aren’t predicting the Atlantic hurricane season, which runs from June through November, will be as record-breaking as 2020, they’re saying the number of named storms and hurricanes will be higher than in a normal year.

DTN, a Minnesota-based analytics firm, is predicting 20 named storms, compared to the annual average of 12. Of those, nine will be hurricanes, and four will be major hurricanes of category 3 or stronger. AccuWeather had similar predictions of 16 to 20 named storms, seven to 10 becoming hurricanes, and three to five to becoming major hurricanes.

The economic impact from last year’s hurricane season, which had six category 3 or higher storms, was about $60 to $65 billion in damage and losses, according to AccuWeather.

“The combination of another enhanced hurricane season and the threat of landfall across a big section of the East Coast of the US this year will be disruptive to the supply chain,” said Renny Vandewege, a leading weather expert at DTN.

Read more: Morgan Stanley says the stock market is flashing early warning signs of weakness as businesses face supply shortages. It recommends investors make these 4 trades to avoid the risks ahead.

Vandewege said the storms are more likely to favor the East Coast this year, compared to 2020, when the Gulf Coast felt a heavier impact.

The storms could “disrupt really anything that’s being imported in,” Vandewege said.

“We’re already having a months-long backup at the Port of Los Angeles, and then if we had also the same thing on the East Coast for an extended period of time, it could phenomenally exacerbate product shortages,” said Chris Wolfe, chief executive officer of logistics company PowerFleet.

Storms affect a state’s big industries, too. Along the Texas gulf coast, hurricanes can have an impact on the chemical and the oil and gas industries. A storm there could echo issues that arose from the Texas freeze in February and the six-day Colonial Pipeline shutdown that caused gas prices to surge and prompted some East Coast residents to panic-buy gas.

The forestry industry could be “deeply impacted” as well, Vandewege said. “There’s been shortage on building materials, and that could be enhanced even more if we’re seeing key manufacturing areas shut down around Louisiana and Alabama” because of a hurricane.

Pork, which is heavily produced in North Carolina and other southern states, has faced shortages in the past year, as well, thanks to the pandemic.

When hurricanes, like Florence in 2018, have struck the state in the past, thousands of hogs died. Other livestock and agriculture are also at risk when hurricanes hit.

“There’s huge pork production, chicken production, all the way through the South,” Wolfe said, so storms “could dirsupt food supplies.”

Porter from AccuWeather also noted that the West Coast could see another damaging wild fire season, and he said companies have to prepare ahead of time. “It’s a significant risk that all businesses need to be thinking about right now,” he said. “What’s their vulnerabilities and plan to mitigate.”

Climate change and extreme weather events topped the World Economic Forum’s list of biggest global risks in 2020. That was no surprise to Porter, who said, “people are getting negatively impacted almost on a daily basis by weather events. He said for businesses, the supply chain is a “major component” of that.

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Veterans of color say video of police pepper-spraying a Black Army officer shows that not even a military uniform is protection from police violence

A police officer uses a spray agent on Caron Nazario on Dec. 20, 2020, in Windsor, Va.
A police officer uses a spray agent on Caron Nazario on Dec. 20, 2020, in Windsor, Va.

  • Police hold at gunpoint and pepper-spray a uniformed Black Army officer in a shocking video.
  • The soldier was not charged with any crime or ticketed for any violation.
  • Veterans of color said that the video shows that not even a uniform is protection from police violence.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

A video of police officers holding a uniformed Black US Army soldier at gunpoint and pepper spraying him during a traffic stop in Windsor, Virginia is a troubling reminder that sometimes not even a military uniform is protection enough for Black Americans against threats of police brutality, veterans of color told Insider.

“Once you put on the uniform, it doesn’t erase the fact that you are a Black person in America,” Richard Brookshire, a former Army medic who co-founded and serves as the executive director of the Black Veterans Project, told Insider.

US Army 2nd Lt. Caron Nazario, a Black and Latino health services administration officer with the Virginia Army National Guard, is suing two Virginia police officers, Joe Gutierrez and Daniel Crocker, for aggressive actions taken during a traffic stop in December that started over a license plate issue but quickly escalated.

In video footage from the incident released late last week, two police officers can be seen shouting at Nazario with their guns drawn, pepper-spraying him, and physically striking him repeatedly as they force him to the ground.

At one point during the traffic stop, as the police officers yell for him to get out of the car, Nazario told them he was “honestly afraid” to get out, to which one officer responded: “Yeah, you should be.”

Mark Herring, Virginia’s attorney general, said on Twitter that “the video doesn’t show anything to justify how Lt. Nazario was treated,” adding in another tweet that Nazario showed “incredible composure.”

Nazario was not charged with any criminal wrongdoing or traffic violation, his attorney told NBC News. He says that the police violated his clients constitutional rights.

Nazario’s attorney writes in the lawsuit that the video footage is “consistent with a disgusting nationwide trend of law enforcement officers, who, believing they can operate with complete impunity, engage in unprofessional, discourteous, racially biased, dangerous, and sometimes deadly abuses of authority,” adding that Nazario, while in uniform, was a victim of this trend.

The town of Windsor, Virginia characterized the incident as “unfortunate” and announced Sunday that one of the two officers involved has been fired.

‘Deeply troubling’

“One of the things that probably stuck out the most to me was the fear in Lt. Nazario’s face and actions and voice because he’s realizing right from the get-go that even though he’s in uniform and he’s an active-duty service member, he is still at risk of suffering the same fate that many Black people have suffered at the hands of the police,” Jeremy Butler, a Navy veteran and CEO of Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, told Insider.

“He might have expected it if he were in civilian clothes, but the fact that’s he’s in uniform and this is the way he’s being treated by the police, it almost does not compute.”

“We have been consistently told this message of how much the country salutes our services and appreciates our sacrifice,” Butler said, but “what you see in this instance is that is not always the case.”

In the video footage of the traffic stop, Nazario can be heard multiple times saying “I’m serving my country and this is how I’m treated” with a tone of what sounds like disbelief.

The Black Veterans Project said on Twitter that such developments, while upsetting, are neither shocking nor surprising given the police violence that many Black service members and veterans have faced throughout US history.

“I thought it was deeply troubling,” Brookshire said of the video. “It reminded me, especially because he got maced and thinking about his eyes, of Isaac Woodard.”

On February 12, 1946, Woodard was pulled off a bus and beaten by police, who blinded him in both eyes, as he was returning home to his wife after the war. Woodard is just one of many Black war veterans who experienced such brutality.

“Wearing the uniform doesn’t protect Black people from racism,” Brookshire said, explaining that “this idea that black folks are somehow cloaked or protected because they are in uniform, because they serve in the military, or that somehow their skin color is not an issue once they join this institution is a farce and a misreading of history.”

Naveed Shah, another veteran of color and a staff member at Common Defense, argued on Twitter that what happened to Nazario is “another example of why we demand that #BlackLivesMatter.”

The country has been forced to look more closely at issues of racial injustice and police brutality since the death of George Floyd, a Black man who died last May after a police officer knelt on his neck for more than 9 minutes. His death sparked nationwide Black Lives Matter protests.

The murder trial for one of the officers involved is ongoing.

But even as the US takes a closer look at problems that have long affected the country, there continues to be alarming incidents of police violence involving Black Americans.

“Even though I do feel generally overall that we are making progress,” Butler said, “there are still too frequent reminders that we have a very, very long way to go.”

The governor of Virginia called the incident involving Nazario “disturbing,” writing in a statement that “we must keep working to ensure that Virginians are safe during interactions with police, the enforcement of laws is fair and equitable, and people are held accountable.”

Not only are state police investigating the incident at the direction of Gov. Ralph Northam, but the Virginia attorney general announced Monday that he is launching a civil rights investigation into the two police officers involved. He characterized their actions as “dangerous, unnecessary, unacceptable and avoidable.”

Sergeant Major of the Army Michael Grinston said Monday that Nazario “represented himself and our Army well,” stating that while he is proud of him, he is concerned by the video of the traffic stop.

The sergeant major offered an assurance that Nazario “is receiving the support from his leadership he needs during this time.” The incident is said to have given the soldier nightmares, The Washington Post reported.

Nazario’s attorney said Saturday that his client is seeking at least $1 million in damages to send a clear message “to officers that this type of behavior will not be tolerated.”

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Virginia General Assembly passes law allowing for legal possession of one ounce of Marijuana

Virginia state capitol
The Virginia State Capitol in Richmond.

The Virginia General Assembly passed a bill on Wednesday allowing for the legal possession of up to one ounce of Marijuana.

Lieutenant Governor Justin Fairfax broke a 20-20 tie in the Virginia Senate, moving the legislation forward years earlier than anticipated.

The measure will go into effect on July 1, 2021. Virginia has become the 16th state to legalize recreational Marijuana, and the first southern state to do so.

Gov. Ralph Northam has signaled his willingness to sign the bill, and had moved it’s implementation date to July 1 instead of January 1, 2024, arguing that the state should not continue to criminalize Marijuana users.

Democratic Speaker of the House Eileen Filler-Corn also applauded the bill.

“Today, with the Governor’s amendments, we will have made tremendous progress in ending the targeting of Black and brown Virginians through selective enforcement of marijuana prohibition by this summer,” she said in a statement.

Virginia residents 21 and older can legally possess, use and grow Marijuana from July 1 onwards, but the timeline for recreational dispensaries to receive licenses could take years.

This story is developing. Check back for updates.

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Virginia’s Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax says Gov. McAuliffe treated him like George Floyd, Emmett Till, after sexual assault allegations surfaced

Virginia Lieutenant Gov. Justin Fairfax
Virginia Lieutenant Gov. Justin Fairfax.

  • In a televised debate, Virginia’s Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax likened himself to Emmett Till and George Floyd.
  • He accused Gov. Terry McAuliffe of treating him like Floyd when sexual assault allegations surfaced.
  • McAuliffe is leading the race in this year’s Democratic primary for Virginia governor.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

In a televised Democratic primary debate on Tuesday, Virginia’s Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax likened himself to George Floyd and Emmett Till, accusing former Gov. Terry McAuliffe of treating him like Floyd when sexual assault allegations against him surfaced.

“Everyone here on this stage called for my immediate resignation, including Terry McAuliffe, three minutes after a press release came out,” Fairfax said.

“He treated me like George Floyd, he treated me like Emmett Till, no due process, immediately assumed my guilt. I have a son and I have a daughter, and I don’t want my daughter to be assaulted, I don’t want my son to be falsely accused,” Fairfax continued.

In February 2019, Fairfax was accused by two women of sexual assault – allegations that he has continually denied.

Fairfax’s first accuser, Vanessa Tyson, said Fairfax forced her to give him oral sex at the 2004 Democratic National Convention in Boston. The second accuser, Meredith Watson, said that Fairfax raped her when they were both students at Duke University.

McAuliffe, who served as Virginia governor from 2014 to 2018, is leading the race in this year’s Democratic primary for Virginia governor, and Fairfax is among four rival Virginia Democrats angling to take the top spot from him. Northam cannot run for reelection because the Virginia constitution prohibits anyone from holding the position for two consecutive terms.

This Tuesday’s debate was not the first time that Fairfax has compared himself to victims of hate crimes. In response to the sexual assault allegations, Fairfax gave an impromptu speech in the state Senate that same month in 2019, comparing himself to victims of lynchings in Jim Crow-era Virginia.

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Virginia is the first southern state to ban the ‘trans panic’ defense that previously gave lighter sentences to assailants claiming to react to someone’s gender identity

AP ralph northam
Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam.

  • Virginia passed a bill nullifying the “gay/trans panic defense” on Wednesday.
  • The defense has traditionally been used in murder and assault cases against LGBT victims.
  • Virginia, with Gov. Ralph Northam signing the bill, is the first southern state to ban its use.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam signed a bill Wednesday invalidating the “gay/trans panic” defense, which lawyers have previously used as an excuse to secure lighter sentences for people facing homicide charges.

Prior to the bill’s passing, people accused of violent crimes could claim panic as a defense, saying they reacted to a victim’s sexual orientation or gender identity. The bill nullifies that argument in murder and assault cases.

A dozen other states have already banned the defense. Virginia, with Northam signing the bill, has become the first southern state to do so.

Virginia’s state House and Senate passed the bill in February, sending it over to Northam’s office.

Democratic Delegate Danica Roem originally wrote and sponsored the Virginia bill. Roem is one of four openly trans legislators in the country.

Roem said in an interview with NBC News that she hopes other states will follow Virginia’s lead.

“I hope that as a region, the Mid-Atlantic can really tell people that you are welcome here because of who you are, and we will protect you here because of who you are,” Roem said.

Lawyers from the National LGBT Bar Association say the defense has traditionally been used in three distinct ways:

  • A defendant claims that a victim “triggered a nervous breakdown” due to that person’s sexual orientation or gender identity.
  • A defendant claims that a victim’s proposition was “sufficiently ‘provocative’ to induce the defendant to kill the victim.
  • A defendant claims that “they believed that the victim, because of their sexual orientation or gender identity/expression, was about to cause the defendant serious bodily harm. This defense is offensive and harmful because it argues that a person’s gender or sexual identity makes them more of a threat to safety,” the National LGBT Bar Association said.

Research shows that more than 1 out of 4 trans people will experience a hate crime in their lifetime.

The bill comes amid a surge of anti-trans bills being considered in state legislatures across the country this year. Insider previously reported that 28 states are voting on anti-trans legislation in 2021.

Most recently,Arkansas became the first state to pass a bill prohibiting doctors from providing gender-affirming medical care to transgender youth following a Monday state Senate vote.

The bill would prohibit doctors from offering gender-confirming hormone treatment or surgery to trans minors. Doctors would also be unable to refer minors to other providers for treatment.

The legislation now goes to Republican Gov. Asa Hutchinson’s desk for signature. He is expected to either sign or veto the bill early next week.

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Virginia has moved closer to abolishing the death penalty in a watershed moment for the Southern state

Virginia state capitol
The Virginia State Capitol in Richmond.

With a key legislative vote on Friday, Virginia is on the cusp of abolishing the death penalty, a watershed moment for a state that long embraced the practice as an anti-crime deterrent.

The Democratic-controlled House of Delegates voted 57-41 to end the death penalty, with 54 Democrats and three Republicans backing the measure, according to The Richmond Times-Dispatch.

On Wednesday, the Democratic-controlled state Senate voted on a 21-17 party-line vote to approve a similar measure.

With Democratic Gov. Ralph Northam in support of an abolition bill, Virginia is set to join 22 other states that have ended capital punishment and become the first Southern state to end the practice.

Larry Sabato, a longtime political analyst at the University of Virginia, told The Richmond Times-Dispatch that for decades, such an action would have been difficult to imagine.

“In the 20th century, few would have thought this was likely to happen at all, much less that Virginia would be the first in the South to eliminate capital punishment,” he said. “It shows dramatically how different the new Virginia is from the old.”

Virginia has executed nearly 1,400 people since 1608 – with 113 of the killings occuring after the Supreme Court paved the way for executions to restart in 1976 as a result of Gregg v. Georgia, according to the Death Penalty Information Center.

Read more: Inside the 7-minute virtual workouts the Biden transition team used to stay connected as staffers prepared to demolish Trump’s policies

Democratic state Delegate Mike Mullin, a prosecutor who introduced the House legislation, said having a death penalty creates the risk of errors.

“There are many arguments for why we should abolish the death penalty,” he said. “These arguments touch on everything from the moral implications of the death penalty, to the racial bias in how it is applied, to its ineffectiveness, to the extraordinary cost.”

He added: “Perhaps the strongest argument for abolishing the death penalty is that a justice system without the death penalty allows us the possibility of being wrong.”

In 1985, Earl Washington Jr. came within days of being executed for a rape and murder that he did not commit.

After spending 17 years in prison, with many of them on death row, Washington was released in 2001 after more extensive DNA testing, unavailable in earlier years, proved his innocence.

Republican Delegate Jason Miyares, a former prosecutor, defended the use of the death penalty for “worst of the worst” murderers and said that the victims and their loved ones have been largely sidelined in the debate.

“If there is one word to describe what happened to these victims, it is just cruelty – unimaginable cruelty on a scale that’s hard to even process,” he said. “They died with sheer terror on their hearts with people often taunting them.” 

He added: “It’s not vengeance, it’s justice.”

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Virginia state Sen. Ben Chafin dies at age 60 after contracting COVID-19

Ben Chafin
Virginia state Sen. Ben Chafin.

  • Virginia state Sen. Ben Chafin died on Friday from complications related to COVID-19, according his state legislative office.
  • Chafin, a Republican who represented a rural district in Southwest Virginia, was 60 years old.
  • “Southwest Virginia has lost a strong advocate — and we have all lost a good man,” said Gov. Ralph Northam in a written statement.
  • Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.

Virginia state Sen. Ben Chafin died on Friday from complications related to COVID-19, according his state legislative office.

Chafin, a Republican who represented a rural district in Southwest Virginia, was 60 years old.

Democratic Gov. Ralph Northam and the Virginia Senate Republican Caucus, who confirmed Chafin’s death, immediately issued words of praise for the senator, who was elected to the state’s House of Delegates in 2013 before joining the Senate in 2014.

Chafin, an attorney, had been hospitalized with the coronavirus for roughly two weeks before his death. While several Virginia state legislators have contracted the highly infectious disease, he is the first Virginia lawmaker to pass away from complications related to the coronavirus, according to The Richmond Times-Dispatch.

“Southwest Virginia has lost a strong advocate – and we have all lost a good man,” Northam expressed in a written statement. “I knew Ben as a lawmaker, an attorney, a banker, and a farmer raising beef cattle in Moccasin Valley, working the land just as generations of his family had done before him. 

Chafin’s Republican and Democratic colleagues saluted his life and service to the commonwealth.

“Ben was deeply and wholeheartedly committed to the commonwealth, and especially to the people of Southwest Virginia,” said state Senate GOP leader Thomas K. Norment Jr. in a statement. “He put the interests of those he was entrusted to serve first, cherishing the people of the region he proudly called ‘home.'”

“We grieve the loss of our colleague and friend, Senator Ben Chafin,” said the Democratic Senate caucus in a statement. “He was a passionate leader who represented his constituents of the 38th District in Southwest Virginia with such compassion, strength, and thoughtfulness.”

Chafin is survived by his wife, Lora and their three children, along with his sister and grandchildren.

Since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, there have been roughly 355,000 confirmed infections and over 5,000 deaths in Virginia, according to the latest data compiled by Johns Hopkins University.

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