BLM757 organizer announces fun for Congress at Lobby Day gun rally

Chip Lauterbach | 1/20/2022, 6 p.m.
Using the annual pro-gun rally on Lobby Day at the General Assembly as a backdrop, JaPharii Jones, lead organizer with …
Black Lives Matter 757 organizer JaPharii Jones of Newport News, second from right, joins other gun rights advocates Monday for the annual General Assembly Lobby Day in Downtown. Police barricades and metal fencing were put up around Capitol Square, where no firearms were allowed. Because this group was carrying weapons, the Capitol Police officer asked them to move to the south side of 9th and Main streets, away from the state office buildings by the Capitol. Photo by Regina H. Boone

Using the annual pro-gun rally on Lobby Day at the General Assembly as a backdrop, JaPharii Jones, lead organizer with Black Lives Matter 757, announced his intention to run for Congress in Virginia’s 3rd District, a seat that has been held by Democratic Rep. Robert C. “Bobby” Scott since 1993.

Mr. Jones and several members from BLM757 were taking part in a gun rights rally organized Monday on the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Holiday by the Virginia Citizens Defense League, a largely white group dedicated to advancing gun rights, and joined with several other gun rights groups to hold a canned food drive for local food banks.

Mr. Jones did not clarify if he would be running against Rep. Scott in a Democratic primary or if he plans to run as a Republican or independent candidate. The general election is in November.

Congressman Scott, the first African-American elected to Congress from Virginia since Reconstruction, is the longest serving member of Virginia’s congressional delegation and currently is chairman of the House Committee on Education and Labor.

The 3rd Congressional District includes several jurisdictions in Hampton Roads, including all or parts of Newport News, Hampton, Norfolk, Chesapeake, Portsmouth and Suffolk.

“I’ve been an activist for over five years,” Mr. Jones said. “We’ve been trying to fight for what we feel is right. So I feel the next natural step is take my voice out of the streets and into office.”

He said while Congressman Scott has done great things for the 3rd District, “It is time to get some fresh blood and new perspectives in that office.”

Mr. Jones and BLM757 have been active establishing a dialogue during the past two years between Black Lives Matter activists and militia groups across Virginia, creating an unlikely alliance that Mr. Jones feels strengthens support for both causes and confronts misinformation around both communities.

The group gained notoriety by being among one of the few Black Lives Matter groups to attend protests and rallies in Richmond and Hampton Roads armed with rifles. Mr. Jones believes the Second Amendment of the U.S. Constitution giving people the right to bear arms is “the most important part of the Bill of Rights because it affords us the ability to defend everything else we have against an over- reaching government if need be.”

On Monday, Mr. Jones said he brought his AR-15 semiautomatic rifle but did not have it with him near the State Capitol. Weapons are not allowed in Capitol Square or any of the surrounding government buildings, and Capitol Police were around to enforce the rules as about 60 people showed up in small groups around the area for Lobby Day.

Ian Brown was among the gun rights activists who faced the cold Monday for the rally at which members of the Virginia Citizens Defense League made a few speeches inside the Pocahontas Building in Capitol Square where legislative committees meet.

Mr. Brown drove from Roanoke for the event.

“I had a feeling that it was going to be a smaller turnout than back in 2020,” said Mr. Brown, recalling when an estimated 22,000 people, many of them armed with an array of weapons, marched through Downtown and descended on the State Capitol for Lobby Day.

“Either way, we still feel it’s extremely important that the people of Virginia come out here to engage in a respectful manner with our state lawmakers,” he said.

That year, state lawmakers had pledged to pass new gun control measures in the wake of a mass shooting in Virginia Beach in May 2019 in which 12 people were killed. The measures, pushed by a Democratic-controlled legislature, including requiring background checks prior to all firearms purchases, a cap on handgun purchases to one per month, a ban on the sale and possession of assault weapons and restrictions on firearm magazines holding more than 10 rounds of ammunition.

This year, with the General Assembly returning with a new Republican governor, Glenn A. Youngkin, and the GOP in control of the House of Delegates and in a slim 21-19 minority in the state Senate, gun rights advocates came to Lobby Day with the goal of pushing for the repeal of gun restrictions passed by the Democrats in recent years.

Legislation has been introduced by GOP members of the House and Senate to repeal the state law limiting handgun purchases to one per month. A bill proposed by Sen. Bryce Reeves of Spotsylvania County would allow for concealed weapons to be carried without a permit.

Capitol Police reported no arrests Monday.