Attorney General visits Lynchburg, discusses various hot button topics
View story at The News & Advance...Virginia Attorney General Jason Miyares visited with area business leaders and lawyers to discuss gang violence, police shortages, fentanyl overdoses and immigration at a roundtable discussion at the Lynchburg Regional Business Alliance on Thursday.
Miyares pointed out 50% of Americans do not know their neighbors’ names, and he highlighted the alarming rise in drug overdose deaths in the U.S. He criticized the notion that good intentions alone guarantee positive outcomes in government, emphasizing that intentions should not be the sole measure of success. He raised concerns about legislation that, despite good intentions, has negatively impacted law enforcement and community safety.
As an advocate for small businesses, Miyares highlighted the economic significance of these enterprises and the tendency for them to avoid high-crime areas. He discussed the emergence of new terms such as “food deserts” where retailers cannot thrive due to crime, leading to a lack of access to fresh produce for the affected population. Miyares stressed the need to address the cycle of violence and outlined initiatives such as Operation Ceasefire, which focuses on preventive measures and resources for young people, including anti-gang and anti-gun violence efforts.
“When you talk to those that are in gang prevention, they point out that some of the absolute best avenues to prevent young people from going into gang violence or going into gang activity, are after-school sports and after school activities in churches and what was closed for 18 months in this country? Those gangs weren’t closed. But those activities were,” he said.
He also emphasized the importance of community policing and building trust between law enforcement and the community. He expressed concerns about the high vacancy rates in police departments across Virginia, which hinder the implementation of effective community policing strategies.
“The only way you can have community policing is to have police departments that are properly staffed.” he said. “And you can’t survive when you’re having 25 or 40 percent vacancy.”
He said there are challenges faced by law enforcement officers, including early retirements and a sense of thanklessness in their profession. He highlighted the need for proper staffing and support for law enforcement agencies to foster trust and cooperation with the community.
In an effort to address these issues, Miyares mentioned the implementation of Operation Blue Line, which involves recruiting officers from other states that have passed supportive law enforcement measures to join the Virginia police force.
Chad Mooney with Petty, Livingston, Dawson & Richards in Lynchburg asked what the office was doing to combat fentanyl and opioid traffic.
Miyares discussed the severe impact of addiction on communities, emphasizing it is a problem affecting every community and individual in some way. He highlighted a specific case in Virginia where major opioid manufacturers aggressively marketed their drugs, leading to widespread addiction and devastation with OxyContin.
“Virginia was ground zero for their marketing and they knew this was some of the most addictive chemicals known to man,” he said.
Miyares expressed the importance of holding these corporations accountable for their actions and mentioned that his office has secured more than $1 billion in settlements with more to come, which will be used to support addiction treatment initiatives. He talked about the establishment of treatment centers and grant programs to provide resources and help to those struggling with addiction.
Addiction also impacts the economy, he said, with a number of able-bodied adults unable to work due to addiction.That’s part of our role as attorney generals, is protecting consumers, protecting Virginians,” he said. “We want businesses to grow, we want businesses to thrive but we also don’t want you taking advantage of innocent Virginians.”
Mooney said the U.S. Supreme Court recently dismissed a case filed by individual states, challenging the lack of enforcement of federal immigration laws. He asked Miyares if he is talking to other attorneys general about means of combating the Biden administration’s failure to enforce immigration laws.
“I think if you’re a drug dealer poisoning our kids, you should be prosecuted. I think most reasonable Virginians believe that,” he said.
Miyares said he is concerned about the influx of fentanyl crossing the southern border, stating enough fentanyl enters the country to kill every person multiple times over.
“A grain of fentanyl underneath this fingernail would kill every person in this room,” he said. “It’s 50 times more powerful than heroin.”
He referred to drug cartels as conducting chemical warfare on the country and criticized the lack of control over the border.
“I’m a little incredulous that the Biden administration can hire 87,000 new IRS agents to audit businesses. They could have hired 87,000 new border agents to get some sense of control what’s happening. Because drug cartels are taking advantage us and it is the spirit of lawlessness that is hurting people and hurting communities,” he said.
He highlighted the connection between drug trafficking and human trafficking, emphasizing the need for border control to prevent victimization and the spread of addiction.
“The two largest criminal enterprises on a global scale are drug trafficking and human trafficking. And having no control over southern border, right now, is creating a spirit of lawlessness right there and is creating an enormous amount of victims both with addiction and overdose deaths, and also human trafficking,” he said. “So we have been asked the Biden administration to have some semblance of control of what’s happening on the border.”
He discussed the dangers of fentanyl and counterfeit pills, urging parents to have conversations with their children about not consuming anything unless it comes directly from a trusted pharmacy. He mentioned the prevalence of fentanyl-laced drugs and the marketing tactics used by cartels, even at the risk of overdosing their own users. Miyares also said how important naloxone is as a life-saving tool and the need to address the opioid crisis in parallel with efforts to combat drug trafficking.
Mooney mentioned the First Amendment and asked Miyares how his office is navigating legal aspects to what can be taught in schools as it relates to sexuality and access to literature on these topics.
“It shows why school board elections are so important,” he said. “They’re the most important election no one ever talks about because the way we set up our system in Virginia is school boards have an enormous amount of direction and authority when it comes to curriculum and who the superintendent is.”
He said he believes 6-year-olds shouldn’t be reading explicit materials.
“I don’t think that’s unreasonable,” he said. “And I think most school boards are wrestling with that. I have seen some of the material that has been in other states and it’s pretty shocking. But I do think it shows how important there’s elections are and I would say why parents have been so concerned and they’re showing up and speaking at the school board elections and speaking at these meetings, trying to voice their concerns because I think we should be protecting our kids.”