By Brandon Martin
Sean Perryman, a candidate for the Democratic nomination for lieutenant governor, made a recent campaign stop in Martinsville.
His visit to the local barber shop, Krispy Kutz, served as a meet-and-greet and an opportunity for Perryman to discuss the issues he would be pushing to solve if elected.
Policing and Criminal Justice Reform
One of the largest parts of Perryman’s platform is concerned with re-imagining policing and rectifying laws which have had a disproportionate effect on minority communities.
According to Perryman’s campaign website, the first item on this agenda is “legalizing cannabis possession immediately, automatically expunging past cannabis convictions, freeing those incarcerated only for cannabis-related crimes, driving the benefits of the new cannabis markets to communities disproportionately impacted by marijuana prohibition, and investing new state revenues into our education system.”
Perryman said his vision would focus primarily on possession-oriented crimes but that he would be open to discuss other convictions as well.
“I would want to have the conversations about distribution because usually with distribution there is a lot more that goes into the crime than possession but I would be open to that,” he said. “At the end of the day, when we open this market, we are going to be providing massive quantities of cannabis which is the same thing they were locked up for.”
Perryman said he wants possession charges completely expunged.
As for distribution-related charges, “I would be open to early releases but maybe still have it on their record, so it really just depends,” he said.
Another portion of Perryman’s agenda is concerned with ‘defelonizing’ all drugs and dealing with addiction and drug use as a public health crisis rather than a criminal issue.
“We’ve actually seen Oregon, who is trying it now, so we are going to get some more data on how it works here in America,” Perryman said. “For me, it’s like instead of treating everything where if you get caught with drugs then you go to jail, instead it is more addiction counseling.”
Currently, Perryman said that the state lacks the resources to help individuals suffering from addiction.
“I’m talking about meth, crack-cocaine, or whatever,” he said. “But as we start to take this new approach then we would divert funds from law enforcement and move it towards rehabilitation. We have to decide, are we just locking people away or are we rehabilitating them.”
Compared to other countries, Perryman said the United States has failed to meet the challenge.
“We have had a terrible record of dealing with people on drugs than other countries because we have been such a punishment-oriented society,” he said.
Regarding critics that say his approach would lead to increased drug usage, Perryman said “I don’t think our crackdown on drugs has decreased drug usage. If anything, during the pandemic it spiked even more.”
Furthermore, he said “there is nothing in the evidence that shows if we make drug laws more strict that we stop the demand for it, so I think it is a false argument.”
Perryman noted that other countries that have tried the approach he is advocating for have had far better results.
“I’ve also seen from other countries where they treat it like a public health crisis that with people that are addicted to heroin, they give them small amounts of it to wean them off. It’s a safer way of going about doing it,” he said. “You get people out of the shadows, and it is no longer stigmatized. I think it would have the effect of reducing crime because you wouldn’t feel the need to hide that you are a drug addict.”
Perryman readily admits that his approach is controversial but he sees it as a necessary step towards achieving the goal of decreasing addiction.
“This is something where I fully recognize this isn’t something within the paradigm that we are currently in,” he said. “It’s something that we would have to move towards. We’ve seen it in other parts of the world and it works so that’s why I think it is something that we have to explore.”
Another part of Perryman’s criminal justice agenda is eliminating qualified immunity for police officers.
“Any profession, and I think police officers are a profession like any other and they are unfortunately asked to do a lot more than they should be asked to do, any profession you have some sort of liability insurance,” Perryman said. “Right now, what we do is we shift that cost to the government. What we are saying to police officers is that if you are acting outside of the scope of your responsibilities ━ we’re not talking about any officer for just anything ━ we’re talking about clear cases of brutality. If you are asking outside of the scope of your responsibility, then we want to hold you accountable for that.”
Perryman said the move would bring police officers to the same standard held in other careers.
“If you go into a barber shop and they do something like cut your head then you could sue them,” he said. “I don’t think this is treating them any differently than everyone else.”
While conceding that certain aspects of police work are different than a barber, Perryman thinks the elimination of qualified immunity would help achieve the goal of a more cognizant police force.
“We understand that it is a dangerous job and maybe that would require them to have insurance but here is the thing. When you have those insurance costs and everything else, you are incentivized to be a little more careful,” he said. “That’s what we ultimately want to do with policing.”
Infrastructure and Climate Change
To spur more economic development in rural areas, Perryman said more focus needs to be on infrastructure.
According to his website, one way to boost Virginia’s economy is “empowering rural Virginia with green jobs in the infrastructure and technology sectors, improved connectivity, state funding for rural schools, and universal broadband.”
Perryman said that rural Virginia has a difficult time attracting companies because the area lacks adequate infrastructure.
“I don’t just mean physical infrastructure, even though in some places it is that,” he said. “I mean things like broadband. We need to have broadband infrastructure. We need to invest in these communities. We can’t just keep sending companies to northern Virginia and think that is a win. If we want to revitalize rural Virginia, then we need to focus on broadband and transportation.”
By expanding broadband capabilities, Perryman said natives of rural Virginia would have the option to stay close to home.
“From what I hear from a lot of people, especially young people, is that ‘I have to move out of my hometown to get the work that I want to get,’” he said. “Because even if they want to stay there, they don’t have internet access or at least a reliable enough one.”
Along with connecting people through broadband, Perryman said efforts need to be made to connect people in other ways.
His website states that Virginia needs to invest “in green, accessible public transit that allows workers to commute to higher-quality jobs and provides employers with a more diverse labor force.”
Perryman said the effort has been stalled by improper framing.
“You can’t just pitch that I’m going to run a train to Southside. You’ve got to pitch that you want Virginia to be interconnected,” Perryman said. “You have to look at the railways and everything else for how we go about doing that.”
Perryman said increased public transportation would benefit all Virginians.
“For me, I look at it like this. It’s an issue of congestion, pollution and everything else,” he said. “If we start figuring out ways to gear spending on things like this then we are ultimately going to save money in the long run. We know what the climate crisis is doing, we know how much time people waste in traffic every day. It would be about making Virginia interconnected through a railway and doing that in a way that is equitable to Southwest and Southside Virginia.”
To accomplish this, Perryman said Democrats need to be honest about what the proposal would look like in reality.
“I try to be a straight shooter,” he said. “We are not going to have as many stops in Southwest Virginia as we are going to have in more populous areas, but you have to have that connectivity for them.”
Perryman said he is honest about the future of green energy as well.
“We are going to be moving to green jobs with the Virginia Green New Deal and things like that,” he said. “I would incentivize those sorts of jobs, but we have to realize that those sorts of jobs may not be as high-paying as some of the pipe laying and those sorts of positions. We have to be realistic about that.”
With the switch, Perryman said displaced workers from the natural gas industry will need to be trained to meet the new demand.
“I think ultimately, if this is where we are going as a society, then we have to re-skill and retrain those workers,” he said. “Then if we are able to invest in the infrastructure and everything else then we are going to create new jobs because we are going to have to be building out and doing those things. I’m talking about the broadband infrastructure, crumbling roads and everything else. These are things that will create new jobs and I think there has to be a shift.”
Given that resources like oil and natural gas are limited compared to self-sustaining energy sources like the sun, Perryman said the shift in the job market is not only necessary but inevitable.
“Here’s the thing with moving towards a more green economy, that’s going to happen anyway. We’re already seeing it happen,” Perryman said. “Those jobs of the past like coal mining, they have to realize that what we are saying is we are going to do it faster but it’s going to happen regardless. I think I’m one of the people that is frank about this. We are sacrificing one for the other.”
Perryman doesn’t intend to leave those workers out to dry.
“We need to speed up the timeline for retraining and reskilling,” he said. “Part of my platform is free community college. I’m a big proponent of apprenticeships so there are skilled jobs other than the ones that are detrimental to the environment.”
To find out more about Perryman and his campaign, visit https://perrymanforvirginia.com/.