Black State Lawmaker Calls On Governor To Address Rise In White Supremacy, Messages Of Hate In West Virginia
This is a developing story and may be updated.
Del. Danielle Walker, D-Monongalia, is calling on Gov. Jim Justice to address a rise in white supremacy and messages of hate across West Virginia. A letter from Walker addressed to the governor cites her personal experiences participating in protests of racial injustice, recent comments from state lawmakers and inaction from Justice himself.
In the letter to Justice dated Wednesday, Sept. 23, Walker recalled participating in an event in support of Black Lives Matter. What was promoted as a peaceful event in Kingwood on Sept. 12 reportedly turned hostile when those protesting racial injustice were met by counter protesters. Walker said another event in Morgantown the following day was also met with several of the same counter protesters.
Walker detailed her experience at those events in the letter to the governor. She said she is still recovering from trauma she experienced in Kingwood, where she said she was called racial slurs and threatened by white supremacists and neo-Nazis as she marched with others protesting racial injustice.
“Kingwood could have been the place I took my last breath. An angry mob of [w]hite supremacists approached us and pushed many peaceful protestors off the sidewalk. I have been called a N***** before, but never in that tone of voice and with eyes full of rage, looking at me as if I wasn’t American enough,” Walker wrote. “We were called apes. We were told to go back to Africa and that we didn’t belong there. It was an intense walk of a few blocks to get to the courthouse past a crowd of counter protesters screaming ‘All Lives Matter!’ and ‘White Power!’”
As a Black woman, Walker is one of only four people of color in the 100-member West Virginia House of Delegates.
“When many of us support and say Black Lives Matter, no one has ever stated ONLY Black Lives Matter. But Black Lives are becoming an endangered species,” she wrote.
Black Lives Matter is both an organized group and a decentralized movement calling for an end to racial injustice and police brutality. While those associated with Black Lives Matter are often accused of violent behavior, research published in the Journal of Political Communication suggests that perceptions of those involved is heavily influenced by a person’s political affiliation. The group is not listed as a domestic terrorist organization by the U.S. State Department.
Walker said that she has begun taking precautions when going into public, given the hostile reactions to her participation in the protests and threats made against her.
“I have night tremors and nightmares every night because [of] what I experienced in Kingwood,” she wrote. “Body armor is part of my wardrobe, and I travel with security, even to go to Walmart, because of the threats I receive every day.”
Walker also called out 17 Republicans in the West Virginia Senate who have not denounced attacks on peaceful protests protected under the First Amendment but have instead taken issue with stickers on WVU helmets that show support of Black lives.
She also wrote that one of those senators who signed onto a letter calling on university presidents to denounce perceived “hate speech” — Sen. Dave Sypolt, R-Preston — sat safely in his vehicle during the event in Kingwood on Sept. 12 as Walker and others were approached by counter protesters who were armed with automatic weapons.
Sen. Sypolt was not immediately reached for comment on his recollection of that day’s events.
Walker said she is disappointed that Justice and other elected officials have not condemned displays of white supremacy such as what she has experienced in recent weeks.
She asked for no direct response to her letter, but did call on Justice to address the matter Friday during one of his regularly scheduled briefings on the state’s response to the coronavirus pandemic.
“I need you to see me, protect me, and govern me with unity and solidarity,” Walker wrote to Justice. “Hate is not making America Great. This Mountaineer does NOT feel FREE.”
A spokesman for Justice's spokesman declined to offer comment on the letter Wednesday afternoon, noting in an email that "this is actually the first I am hearing about it."