After four days of protests over the killing of George Floyd by Minneapolis police that have rocked Virginia and the nation, numerous African American leaders from throughout the state joined Gov. Ralph Northam Tuesday afternoon to address the commonwealth on issues the governor called “much more fundamental” than the COVID-19 pandemic. Here are excerpts of what they said:
Del. Delores McQuinn, D-Richmond
We are a nation in crisis. But I am not expecting us to stay here. The expectation is to protest peacefully. After we protest peacefully, let’s sit at the table where our voices can be heard and where people can dissect and process what we have to say.
Let’s get to work to make a difference so that for the next generation — the 6-year-old granddaughter that I have, and my little adopted son … — that generation of young people will live in a better America, a better society, and a better commonwealth.
Rev. Kelvin Jones, First Baptist Church Capeville, Northampton County
We have seen the unfortunate, untimely and unnecessary deaths of individuals of color over and over again by the hands of a cancerous portion of what is without a doubt an otherwise healthy and properly functioning group of police officers who each day risk their lives to protect and to serve.
And in these turbulent moments, the call is to no longer tolerate the cancer that infects our police departments, but throughout America we must excise the cancer so that it does not destroy the majority of the body that functions properly and professionally and genuinely cares about the communities which they serve.
Unfortunately, (what) we are witnessing in response to these deaths caused by these cancerous individuals is years of hurt and pain, and it is now manifesting itself.
And whenever pain is continuously perpetuated on persons, they will respond in one of two ways: fight or flight. And for some, they feel they have run too long. They feel their grandparents have run. They have seen their parents run. They have recently seen their peers run. And some of them have even had to run.
But the pain has worn them down and they can no longer run. They feel their only response now is to fight — a response which is often misunderstood. But if you have never been cornered and only privileged, it’s difficult to understand the pain or the response. …
Everyone is asking today: How do we end senseless looting and rioting? How do we respond to the chaotic climate and culture in which we are living?
And I believe the answer lies within each one of us. The answer that the African American community is looking for is first of all, just to be heard. One of the most degrading feelings is to speak and be ignored, as if what you’re saying is irrelevant.
We saw that proven after the death of Mr. Floyd. Minneapolis was upset but still intact. They had asked for charges to be filed and arrests made, but no one heard the appeal, and if they heard it they did not listen.
So what happened? They rioted. Was it right? No. Do I condone it? No.
However, look at what happened after the riot. The same district attorney came on the same channel the next day and charged at least one cop — not in response to the request and the voice of a hurting people, but in response to the rioting.
So what message did he send? That we do not listen to what you say when you speak intelligently, but when you respond with violent actions, we listen. …
Shirley Ginwright, chair of Fairfax County Communities of Trust Committee and member of the African American Advisory Board
We talk about listening. We don’t listen. We don’t listen to black voices. But we definitely need to listen to the young people who are on the street fighting for justice. …
We have to change our laws. When the rioting is over, when the smoke has cleared, we cannot go back to business as usual. We have to make our 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’re having to go through now or that we went through 50 years ago.
So I’m asking you to stand up. To my white sisters and brothers, stand with us, not behind us. Walk with us. Let your voice be the true voice. You can help make a difference.
To my black brothers and sisters. Let your voice be heard through your vote. We have no obligation to someone to stay in a position the rest of their lives. If they don’t support the issues that you want, vote them out. We have elections coming out. I’d like to see as many of you vote as you are marching.
Naquel Perry Jr, Albemarle High student and a member of the Student Equity Advisory Team
To all the kids that are watching, we are the future. Our voice needs to be heard, and we need to come together now more than ever. We need everyone — any race — we need everyone to make this thing bigger and to help us.
To all my kids and fellow classmates who are going to be eligible to vote, please use your right and vote and let your voices be heard.
To all the protesters out there, please be safe and one day, I have faith that this nation will one day become better.
Rev. Tyrone Nelson, member, Henrico County Board of Supervisors
Black people are hurting. And we’re not going to be able to sweep this up under the carpet or go along as business as usual. …
On one hand I’m frustrated and I’m tired and I’m sad and I’m angry. But I also realize that I’ve got a responsibility, as do all of us.
So today as I’m sitting behind my computer, frustrated, angry, tired, mad, I’m also typing an email to my colleagues, and I’m saying, I’m asking for us to have a community review board, I’m asking for us to rename any building that has a Confederate name, I’m asking for us to look at all our policies …
So this is my challenge: Be angry. Make your anger move to righteous indignation. And then let’s take advantage of this moment that we have and let’s do something. Let’s not be here again. Let’s stop empowering people to murder black people.
Jim Bibbs, chairman of the board the Urban League of Hampton Roads
Our goal is to not lose the message.
We need police reform. We need police to have dash cams, body cams on at all times. We need laws revised in ways that look at everyone. We also need to address some of those things that we deem socially acceptable with regards to things that are said, such as “There’s only one race, the human race.” Many things along those lines that we hear, we say, and we kind of excuse behaviors.
We have to challenge those behaviors when we hear them. Stop being afraid to be the one in the room to challenge a behavior, to challenge a statement that you know is not right. If you feel it in your gut that it’s not right, challenge that statement. …
I have a friend who is a staunch conservative from childhood. She wrote me a message and she said for the first time, her son is 21 years old, in a military academy, 6’1”, 195 pounds, strapping young buck. For the first time, she said, when he was going out the other day, she had to tell him to be careful. And when the door shut, she said she felt the pit in her stomach. She said it was something she never felt before.
And she said that the first person she thought of was me — I don’t know why, but she thought of me — to reach out to me and say that she was sorry for some of the comments that she’s made. And she understood for the first time that pit in her gut that African American parents feel when their child walks out. She said she didn’t have to have the full talk, but she had to have a talk for the first time.
That’s the beginning. Those are the moments that we’re talking about. Challenge those moments. Make certain that what you’re doing is for a better Virginia, a better community that you live in, and a better nation.
Cynthia Hudson, member of the state NAACP and chair of the Commission to Examine Racial Inequity in the Virginia Law
The NAACP president at the national level has said very succinctly, and it sums it up for me: We are done dying.
I’m a little bit done talking. I want to act.
Janice Underwood, Virginia’s chief diversity, equity and inclusion officer
All week many of us have been in Zoom meetings or watching the protests, and we’ve been on the brink of breaking down and we’re angry.
I’ve wondered why the murder of George Floyd has been especially heartbreaking, and I realize that it’s because we all witnessed, in effect, a 21st-century version of a lynching.
But similar to Eric Garner, I believe that we have all been so viscerally impacted because we all can’t breathe. We’re angry, but in the words of Cynthia Hudson, we’re ready to act.
So yes, this is painful for all of us, and it’s painful for the black community in particular because of our historical connection to lynching and as victims of violence at the hands of white people. And despite all of this, like so many others, I feel the world around us is simply waiting on the next news cycle to change, and we fear a return to ignoring white supremacy in plain sight.
I weep and intercede on behalf of the Floyd family, and on behalf of your family and my family, and on behalf of every life that does not yet matter.
I am exhausted by being black in America. …
None of us can do this by ourselves. But if you want to know what you can do right now, what can you do to help, let’s start by acknowledging that all of us are at different levels of understanding these racial dynamics. And especially for our youngest residents, our children, this may be the first time they are seeing and experiencing such painful things. So helping our children, our friends and neighborhoods, requires a commitment to leaning — and I mean leaning — into our discomfort and privilege.
These conversations will create emotions of confusion and defensiveness and guilt and anger and fear. But these are normal and necessary human responses.
I ask you to listen to one another. We must treat each other with respect and listen to each other. Listen to your friend. Listen to your coworker. Listen to that relative or neighbor who needs to share their experiences or their pain, because we are in so much pain.
Secondly, learn how to be a genuine ally, not a fake ally — how can you be a genuine ally in this work and help your friends and coworkers and relatives and loved ones and neighbors to avoid stereotyping and criminalizing and undermining people of color …
And finally, you can start by educating yourself about the racial dynamics that we are all experiencing by having conversations, but also by reading books and watching films about anti-racism to gain a new knowledge, a new language, a new confidence to be able to talk about it in your sphere of influence. …
We are all in this together. Step by step and day by day, we will rebuild our commonwealth and emerge as a national exemplar for inclusive excellence and racial equity. I believe it in my heart and I hope you do too.