Taking Back the Community: A glimpse from behind the bench

NEWPORT NEWS, Va. (WAVY) — 10 On Your Side has been doing stories about taking back the community since July of this year.

For the first time, we got a glimpse from behind the bench from a judge who has seen it all.

WAVY’s Andy Fox recently sat down with the Honorable David Pugh before his retirement — to get his thoughts on what needs to happen between police and the community to improve the flow of information to solve the crimes. Judge Pugh gave candid thoughts on crime, cops, guns and drugs.

For nearly 27 years, Pugh has laid down the law in Newport News courts.

“We have residents of the community who are crying out to be safe and free from violence,” Judge Pugh says.

Friday morning, Judge Pugh was hearing a case involving possession with the intent to distribute drugs, including marijuana. He heard another case involving a firearm.

Judge Pugh asked the attorney, “Now what about the possession of the firearm?”

Judge Pugh says guns and drugs are slowly destroying communities like the east end of Newport News.

“We will administer the law, and follow what the law tells us. We have to, but that in no way cures the problem.”

Also before the judge Friday was Mr. Blizzard, who is charged distributing drugs. He has a four-page criminal record dating back to his teenage years.

“Not only does it affect others, but you are out here distributing it to others in our community,” Pugh said.

Judge Pugh says idleness leads to crime and drugs lead to gangs and guns, which is a vicious cycle in tough neighborhoods.

“You are going to have to bring in jobs. We need more education, and more outreach in the community.”

The outreach is for families that are failing to raise children properly, and there is a need for better housing.

“Many times, the parents aren’t stepping up and actually monitoring their children,” the judge said.

Judge Pugh supports more police in areas of criminal activity. He calls it “a surge” — essentially, a significant increase in officers in a specific area to cut down on crime.

“We did what was called the ‘surge’ over in Iraq, and I was wondering if we could do something similar in certain communities in order to cut down on the violence.”

Judge Pugh says police need to become embedded in the community, reaching out on a daily basis.

“If they are here to protect and serve, then they have to do that,” Pugh said.

Judge Pugh thinks police must build trust to be friend and not foe, and it’s more than just community policing.

“No one wants to be a snitch, and it’s not so much they don’t want to say it, it is they are afraid to say, and knowing the repercussions that would happen to them if they speak up and they are identified.”

Judge Pugh says bad cops here or in other states arrested for unnecessary killings undermine the police-citizen relationship everywhere.

“There are too many of the African-American population who are killed by law enforcement without justification.”

Judge Pugh thinks that leads to general community mistrust of police, and that breaks down flow of information to solve crimes.

“If the police don’t reach out to individual citizens within the community to show they are interested in the community, they won’t get this information.”

Too many times, Judge Pugh has seen a community he lives in fail to help get the bad guys off the streets.

“…I would  encourage all, if they see crime to report it. Many cases, you don’t have to give your names and let the police investigate it, and let them come up with the individual responsible for the crime.”

Back in court, Judge Pugh sentences Mr. Blizzard to five years and three months in prison.

“This concludes the matter… Good luck to you Mr. Blizzard,” Pugh said. “Next matter.”

Another file is placed in front of His Honor for the next case, which also has to do with crime in Newport News.

Looking back over 27 years on the bench, Judge Pugh is greatly concerned about the systematic racism against African-Americans, and the number of African-Americans killed by police, including William Chapman II, who was shot and killed by former Portsmouth police officer Stephen Rankin.

“There are too many in the African-American population who are killed by law enforcement without justification.”

WAVY News asked Judge Pugh about the Black Lives Matter movement across America.

“Black lives matter. It doesn’t mean black lives are the only ones that matter, but they matter, and they matter because throughout the United States, you can see young black men, especially, who are killed when there is no effort to restrain them in some other way.”

Critics of the Black Lives Matter movement say “all lives matter.”

“I think black lives matter, and the reason it is put like that is because white lives have always mattered. You don’t say, ‘white lives matter, also.’ It is a given that their lives matter.”

Judge Pugh also thinks for complete transparency, police shootings must be independently investigated using the proper forum.

“Did an indictment come out of that, or were police just white washed and not held accountable for their actions? Black lives matter.”

When asked what touches him the most on the bench, Judge Pugh said, “Remembering the victims of crimes that we have in our city, and I would say on a weekly basis, someone is getting killed by the use of guns.”