Gov. Northam speaks publicly for first time on recent unrest in Virginia

Published: Jun. 2, 2020 at 7:29 PM EDT
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RICHMOND, Va. (WWBT) - Governor Ralph Northam spoke publicly Tuesday afternoon for the first time on the protests happening across Virginia.

For the past several days, protests in response to the death of George Floyd have turned violent across the commonwealth.

Northam first released a statement on May 31, calling on Virginians to come together and make a commitment to working for justice and fair treatment.

The governor also declared a state of emergency and authorized assistance to help localities respond to violent protests.

At Tuesday’s briefing, Governor Northam wasted no time referencing George Floyd, calling the video of his death both “horrifying” and “heartbreaking”.

“Before George Floyd, there was Breonna Taylor, there was Ahmad Arbury, and there’s a long list of names before them. People killed because, in America, the color of their skin means that they are treated differently," he said.

The Governor had his Chief Diversity Officer, Dr. Janice Underwood, Delegate Delores McQuinn, local faith leaders, and others to help drive the message home.

“We are clearly a nation in crisis and chaos, fueled by another casualty of systemic racism," Delegate McQuinn said.

The governor mentioned four steps he would be taking in the coming weeks: first, he would hold virtual town halls to address criminal justice reform and public safety.

Next, he plans to meet with the Virginia Association of Chiefs of Police about staff diversity and better community interactions. He also wants to work with other leaders to establish a statewide day of action. Finally, he’s asking his African American Advisory Board and the Virginia Commission to examine racial inequity within state laws.

“I’ve wondered why the murder of George Floyd has been especially heartbreaking, and I realize that its because we all witnessed in effect, the 21st-century version of a lynching,” said Dr. Janice Underwood, adding, “we’re angry, but in the word of Cynthia Hudson, we’re all ready to act.”

The Governor said he understands that people are angry and that the bigger conversation needs to be hand in order to mend those pains.

“I think we need to step back from the big picture, from the protesters, and certainly encourage them to be peaceful. But I think the bigger challenge and the bigger message is --for people that look like me-- is to ask ourselves ‘Why? Why are they feeling this pain?’ and to listen," he said.

On Sunday, Northam approved Richmond Mayor Levar Stoney’s request for a curfew, which lasts through June 3. The mayor also noted that the governor has indicated the Virginia National Guard is available to the city if required.

The governor did also mention a conference between President Donald Trump and the nation’s governors, saying that he rejected the White House’s request to send thousands of Virginia National Guard troops to Washington, DC, adding that it was in the commonwealth’s best interest to keep the soldiers in Virginia to deal with protests and that he wasn’t going to send them for a “photo-op.”

Republican General Assembly Leaders Rep. Todd Gilbert (R-Shenandoah) and Senator Thomas Norment (R-James City) released the statement below:

“Today, Governor Northam faced the people of Virginia for the first time since four days of protests, looting, and vandalism struck our cities. Hundreds of people were arrested after rioters did untold amounts of damage to homes, businesses, and public property. At the same time, otherwise peaceful protesters were tear-gassed for no reason. And the best our Governor could come up with was a half-hearted hope that people would stop being violent.

“This Governor is so paralyzed by his own confusing past on racial issues that he is incapable of effective leadership at this critical moment.

“Virginians need leadership. They need someone who will hear their voices and take action, someone who will simultaneously step up to ensure their homes and businesses are protected. Today, Governor Northam has shown himself unprepared and ill-equipped to do any of those things.”

Rewatch the governor’s Tuesday press conference here:

Governor Ralph Northam is expected to speak publicly for the first time on the protests across Virginia.

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