RICHMOND, Va. (WHSV) — In Virginia Governor Ralph Northam's Thursday press conference – his latest on the state's response to COVID-19 and, recently, the state's response to protests over the death of George Floyd and the resulting nationwide movement to address racial inequities – the governor was asked for his response to the calls of protesters and some Democratic officials to "defund the police."
Several Republican leaders in the Virginia General Assembly has asked in recent days for the governor to condemn the suggestion of defunding the police.
On Thursday, Northam first called it partially a matter of "semantics" about what people mean when they say "defund."
He said if people mean "dismantle," he does not support dismantling police departments because they "provide a much-needed resource for communities."
Northam said what he does support is reforming the funding that is there rather than approaching it as "defunding."
The governor listed off things he would like to see prioritized for police funding, like increasing the diversity of departments, which he said has been an ongoing efforts, according to his recent discussion with police chiefs from across Virginia.
He also called for funding to focus on "co-responding," allowing someone more trained on dealing with mental illness to respond to the scene of someone in distress along with officers to provide the appropriate kind of response.
In addition, Northam said funding should go toward training on de-escalation techniques and body cameras, including programs to allow better reviews of footage and not just wearing them.
Northam said the goals he has for that were based on conversations with police chiefs, as well as input from community activists and legislators.
House of Delegates Minority Leader Todd Gilbert issued the following statement in response to the governor's comments:
“Respectfully, Governor, the effort to “defund the police” is about more than ‘semantics.’ It’s a clear attempt to punish all law enforcement officers for the actions of a few, rather than providing them with the resources they need to keep our communities safe -- a task made more difficult by your decision to release murderers and other dangerous felons before they finish their sentences. House Republicans will work to make sure our law enforcement professionals have the resources and support they need to do their jobs."
Gilbert's statement came a day after the release of Vincent Martin, who served decades in prison for the killing of a Richmond police officer and whose parole grant sparked a still-ongoing investigation by Virginia’s government watchdog agency.
Republican lawmakers asked for Martin's release to be delayed at least until the inspector general's findings were complete, but it was not.
Addressing the actions of protesters tearing down Confederate statues
Governor Ralph Northam began Thursday's briefing by addressing the actions of protesters around Virginia in recent days to tear down monuments.
Over recent nights, three Richmond statues have been removed from their pedestals, including one of Confederate President Jefferson Davis pulled down Wednesday night. He’s urging citizens to allow the legal process to play out for statue removal in the name of public safety.
That was the third statue to be brought down by protesters in recent days after the Christopher Columbus statue in Byrd Park and a Confederate general statue in Monroe Park were also torn down. On Tuesday night, the Christoper Columbus statue was ripped from its foundation, spray painted, and then set on fire before being tossed in a lake.
The statue of Gen. Williams Carter Wickham was pulled from its pedestal in Monroe Park late Saturday night, with a rope tied around it and someone reportedly urinating on it after it was pulled down.
Northam reiterated his previous statements labeling the monuments divisive and saying that they glorify a painful time in Virginia history, which is why he has ordered the removal of the Robert E. Lee monument.
However, he said his decision and Richmond Mayor Levar Stoney’s call for the removal of Richmond monuments were made through a process in which people came together to undertake the removals safely and properly.
The governor said people need to let that happen, mentioning, as an example, the protester in Portsmouth seriously injured by a falling statue.
As Richmond protesters tore down the Jefferson Davis statue Wednesday night, elsewhere in Virginia, in Portsmouth, as other protesters chipped away at a Confederate monument, part of it toppled on top of a man, seriously injuring him and leaving him in a coma, according to friends and family.
"Pulling them down is not worth risking someone's life," Northam said, and called for everyone to do it the right way and keep Virginians safe.
He encouraged protesters to instead speak with their local governments about the process to come once July 1 arrives and local Virginia governments have authority under a new law to order the removal of Confederate monuments.
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