Instead, the governor used the occasion as an opportunity to address another crisis, one that has become more evidently urgent in less than a week.
Cities large and small throughout Virginia – and nationwide – have been racked by unrest, expressing itself sometimes as disciplined demonstrations for justice in the wake of George Floyd’s death, and sometimes as riots and looting.
Floyd died after being pinned under the knee of a Minneapolis police officer for over eight minutes.
Video of the incident ignited outrage nationwide. It punctuated a number of similar incidents – including the death of Breonna Taylor, a Louisville EMT who was shot to death by a police officer in her own home.
The Governor said that Floyd and Taylor “have not gone anywhere,” suggesting that the systematic inequities that led to their deaths persist.
The Governor – who campaigned heavily on addressing race issues – has had a problematic history with racism.
“I can’t know your pain, but what I can do is stand with you. That means continuing the work we’ve started,” the Governor said.
Northam outlined a number of measures he – and the state’s new Democratic majority government – have passed that he believes address some of the inequities black Virginians face.
Some of the changes Northam said they’ve made include expanding voting laws, making election day a holiday, decriminalizing marijuana and eliminating a holiday commemorate Confederating generals.
Going forward, the Governor presented four pillars of a plan for going forward with reforms that address racial inequities:
- We’re going to keep listening and learning through virtual town halls to address criminal justice reform and public safety
- Meet with the board of the Virginia Association of Chiefs of Police to discuss training for officers and to work toward more diverse staffs and engaging with the community positively
- Working with these leaders and many others on a statewide day of prayer, healing and action
- Working with the African American advisory board and the Virginia Commission to examining racial inequity in Virginia laws to continue their work of auditing state code with a focus on criminal justice and public safety