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During Coronavirus Briefing, Gov. Northam Addressed Protests in Richmond

A man speaks at a podium
Reverend Tyrone Nelson, a county supervisor in Henrico and pastor of Sixth Mount Zion Baptist in Richmond, was one of several speakers invited by Governor Northam. (Screenshot: VPM News)

During his regular briefing on COVID-19, Gov. Ralph Northam instead addressed protests against police brutality in the wake of George Floyd’s death. “It’s heartbreaking… but this is not a new heartbreak for Black Americans,” Northam said.

The governor highlighted long-standing racial disparities in health, education, and the criminal justice system, dating back to colonial times.

“Through 400 years of American history, starting with the enslavement of Africans through Jim Crow, massive resistance, and now, mass incarceration, Black oppression has always existed in this country, just in different forms,” Northam said.

Northam says he is asking the African-American advisory board of the Virginia Commission to continue their audit of the Virginia Code, now with a focus on criminal justice reform, among other efforts to address systemic inequalities.

Black leaders from across the commonwealth were invited to speak. Many spoke to the trauma Black Americans experience, and some encouraged protesters to be peaceful, although Northam later said he thought it was most important for white people to “listen” to protesters now instead of lecturing them.

One speaker, Delegate Delores McQuinn (D-Henrico), emphasized the need for action on the part of legislators. “We must come up with concrete strategies to reform the structures that created and maintained racial inequities,.”McQuinn said. The legislator said the death of Floyd left her heart “bruised and broken.”

Shirley Ginwright, former Fairfax NAACP president and chair of the Fairfax Communities of Trust, called on young protesters to participate in local and national elections. “Let your voice be heard through your vote,” she said.

Reverend Tyrone Nelson, a county supervisor in Henrico and pastor of the Sixth Mount Zion Baptist Church in Richmond, said having to talk to his son and daughters about how to act when police pull them over “gets old.”

As an elected official, he said he’s frustrated and angry, “But I also realize I have a responsibility, as do all of us… This is my challenge: be angry, make your anger move to righteous indignation, and then let’s take advantage of this moment we have and do something.”

After a brief recess, the governor returned to announce that most of Virginia would be allowed to move into phase two on Friday, June 5. Northern Virginia and the City of Richmond will be allowed to delay entry into phase two, as they entered phase one later than the rest of Virginia.

Northam says phase two will allow gatherings of up to 50 people, and that restaurants will be permitted to operate indoor dining at 50 percent capacity. He also indicated that many public places, such as recreational sports facilities, museums, and swimming pools would be allowed to open - with caveats. Swimming pools will be open for exercise and swimming instruction, but not recreation, and outdoor sports will be disallowed from using shared equipment.

Despite the loosening of restrictions, Northam said the coronavirus still poses risks. “We are still safer at home,” the governor said. Face coverings are still required in public buildings and telework is recommended. He’ll provide further updates on Thursday.

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