Northam asks people to listen and understand cries of black Virginians; proposes action to address racial inequities


RICHMOND, Va. (WAVY) — Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam held a two-part press conference on Tuesday, where he and others spoke of recent protests in the wake of killings of African Americans, and announced that most of Virginia will move into Phase 2 of the state’s reopening plan on Friday, June 6.

For more on Phase 2, click here.

Below are highlights from the first part of the press conference:

Northam started off by addressing turmoil in the country sparked by the death George Floyd at the hands of police.

He called Floyd’s death “heartbreaking,” with Janice Underwood, Northam’s chief diversity officer, called it a 21st century version of a lynching.

Northam also spoke of Breonna Taylor and Ahmaud Arbery, two other black Americans recently killed in the U.S., Taylor fatally shot by police inside her home, and Arbery by a white man who accused him of being a burglar.

He says racism hasn’t stopped in America, and that it’s encoded in our laws, schools and health care.

“Starting with the enslavement of Africans through Jim Crow, Massive Resistance, and now mass incarceration. Black oppression has always existed in this country,” Northam said, adding “I cannot know the depth of your pain. What I can do is stand with you, and I can support you.”

He touted work in Richmond on criminal justice reforms and health care expansion to address racial inequities, but proposed several other actions to be taken.

  1. Keep listening and learning, with town halls on criminal justice reform
  2. Meet with police leadership to improve training, diversify staff and develop positive community relations
  3. A statewide of prayer, healing and action
  4. Directing the state’s African American Advisory Board to examine racial inequity in Virginia law, with a focus on criminal justice.

To protesters, Northam said, “I hear you, I am here to work with you, so together we can build a place where no one fears for their life because of the color of their skin.” Peaceful protesters in Richmond were tear-gassed more than 20 minutes ahead of the city’s curfew Monday night, which the city’s mayor apologized for earlier Tuesday.

State and community leaders also shared their pain and hope for an equal America in the future.

Shirley Ginwright, a member of the state’s African American Advisory Board, marched with Dr. Martin Luther King during the civil rights movement. She called on the community to listen to young protesters.

“That was me during Dr. King and the civil rights movement, the young people fighting – so why are they fighting for the same things now?” she said.

Ginwright called on the community to not only listen, but take action.

“To my white sisters and brothers, stand with us, not behind us. Walk with us. To my black brothers and sisters, let your voice be heard through your vote.”

Ginwright said the past cannot be carried into the future.

“When the rioting is over, when the smoke has cleared, we cannot go back to business as usual. We have to make legislators accountable. We have to change the books. We have to be there so the next generation will not go through the same thing that we are having to go through now or that we went through 50 years ago.”

This article will be updated.

On Sunday, the governor declared a State of Emergency in Richmond until June 3. This included a citywide curfew requested by Mayor Levar Stoney; he also put the National Guard on alert.

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