Police removed a Democratic state delegate from a commemoration of the General Assembly’s 400th anniversary after he interrupted a speech by President Donald Trump to protest the administration’s immigration policies.
“Mr. President, you can’t send us back; Virginia is our home,” said Del. Ibraheem Samirah, D-Fairfax, shouting as he waved a sign that read “deport hate.”
Samirah, a Palestinian American dentist and the second Muslim lawmaker elected to the General Assembly, won a special election in February to fill the House seat vacated by Jennifer Boysko.
The crowd booed and chanted Trump’s name as police escorted him out of the ceremonial meeting at the Jamestown settlement, which was planned to mark the General Assembly’s status as the oldest continuously operating legislative body in North America.
"Mr. President, you can't send us back, Virginia is our home!"
— ABC News (@ABC) July 30, 2019
Trump’s speech stuck primarily to the history of the settlement and the United States, making a point to mention the arrival of the first enslaved Africans in 1619, the beginning of what he called “a barbaric trade in human lives.” He also steered clear of the vitriol he has recently heaped on minority members of Congress, the city of Baltimore and others.
He paused and looked on during the interruption, but did not remark on it directly until after the event, when he complained to reporters that the protest had dominated news coverage of his speech. “You gave the protester 100 percent of the time,” Trump said. “The protester didn’t look so good to me. I’m going to be very nice. But you gave him 100 percent.”
Samirah put out a statement on Twitter shortly after police escorted him out saying he believed his constituents would rather see him “stand up and be heard than sit down, be police, and passively accept the presence of a man who has sowed fear, division and hate from the highest office in the land.”
“400 years ago today, a group of undocumented immigrants formed a government to rule this commonwealth, beginning a centuries long tradition of people from across the world immigrating here for a chance at safety, democracy and prosperity; my parents, who are Palestinian refugees, included. The fact that the racist-in-chief, who so openly stokes hate against immigrants, was even invited to this event is insulting to Virginians and insulting to the history of our commonwealth’s democracy.”
I just disrupted the @realDonaldTrump speech in Jamestown because nobody's racism and bigotry should be excused for the sake of being polite. The man is unfit for office and unfit to partake in a celebration of democracy, representation, and our nation's history of immigrants. pic.twitter.com/0okD7eRVer
— Delegate Ibraheem Samirah (@IbraheemSamirah) July 30, 2019
House Speaker Kirk Cox, R-Colonial Heights, called Samirah’s move disappointing. “It was not only inconsistent with common decency, it was also a violation of the rules of the House,” he said in a statement.
Some Democrats, meanwhile, cheered Samirah. “I’m proud of him,” tweeted Del. Lee Carter, D-Manassas.
The party was divided over Trump’s visit. Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax (D) sat on stage and shook Trump’s hand alongside Republican leaders. Democratic congresswomen Elaine Luria and Jennifer Wexton also attended, as did Del. Danica Roem, who told The Washington Post she planned to use the occasion to draw attention to issues important to her by bringing “as her guest a black transgender woman who is a health-care advocate.”
Gov. Ralph Northam (D) extended the initial invitation, but later said he only did so at the request of the committee planning the commemorations. He was not in attendance when Trump spoke, but delivered a speech at a separate event earlier in the morning.
The Virginia Legislative Black Caucus boycotted the entire day of ceremonies, organizing a counter event in Richmond that included a wreath laying at the Capitol honoring black lawmakers of the Reconstruction era followed by a commemoration of the first documented arrival of enslaved Africans to Virginia, which coincides with the 400th anniversary of representative democracy at Jamestown.
Delores McQuinn, D-Richmond, a member of the caucus, sat on the steering committee that planned the Jamestown event but said she didn’t find out about Trump’s involvement until the public did. She said Trump’s involvement was a nonstarter for her. “My thoughts about it may have been different … if it had been prior to the day he told those young ladies to go back to their countries,” McQuinn said, referring to Trump’s tweet last week directed at U.S. Democratic Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Ilhan Omar, Ayanna Pressley, Rashida Tlaib.
“He wasn’t just talking about those four women of color … he was speaking to every person of color in the United State of America, make no mistake about it,” she said, addressing a crowd at the site of a former slave jail. She referred to Trump only as “The tenant in the White House.”
“There were days where I sat in tears,” she said before crying onstage. “And then I said to myself, the state of Virginia can allow them to suck the energy out of them by inviting him here, but I refuse to allow him to suck the energy out of me.”
Members of the black caucus said they’ll participate in an event organized by the Jamestown committee next month. But caucus chair Del. Lamont Bagby, D-Henrico, said it was important to recognize the contribution of the first Africans at the same time as the first elected legislature was honored.
“You do not have a General Assembly, its building, the people that were here, the food that was served, you do not have that without the enslaved,” he said. “You cannot commemorate one without another.”