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Winchester authors to speak on criminal justice issues

By Joe Beck

Two local authors of recently published books dealing with issues of social and criminal justice are scheduled to speak about what they've written at 6:30 p.m. Wednesday at Tropical Island Coffee and Café, 39 W. Piccadilly St., Winchester.

Larry Lamar Yates of Winchester and Peter Schmitt of White Post will be joined by members of The Justice Coalition of the Northern Shenandoah Valley, an organization formed two years ago to bring attention to problems in the criminal justice system around Winchester.

Schmitt is the author of "Gabriel's Redemption," a novel based on what he describes as the questionable execution in 1944 of a black Winchester man accused of raping a married white woman with whom he was said to be having an affair.

Yates describes his book, "Scalawag Scholar Notes on Virginia," as a critical look at "Virginia gentlemen" and how they have influenced the state's history from 1607 until today.

"I've just seen there's a very powerful elitism, a tendency for people to kind of look up to this small group of Virginia gentlemen and expect them to solve their problems and, to some extent, defer to them," Yates said.

Yates said his book, published in September, includes a major chapter on the criminal justice system "and that's what I'll be focusing on tonight."

Schmitt, a veterinarian, said he got the idea for his book from his office manager who told him the story of a black man who was electrocuted in 1944 within six or seven weeks after a white woman accused him of raping her. The woman's husband was stationed overseas with the military during World War II at the time of the incident, Schmitt said.

Schmitt said there was no question that the defendant and the woman had sex, but newspaper clippings from the era and interviews with those who still recall the incident made it clear to him many people, especially in the black community, suspected the woman's relationship with the accused was consensual.

"It wasn't written to disparage anybody or any community," Schmitt said of the novel. "It's just about human nature. The African-American community was afraid, and the white community knew about it but just felt it was none of their business."

Contact staff writer Joe Beck at 540-465-5137 ext. 142, or jbeck@nvdaily.com


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