Home Mark Herring Video: AG Mark Herring Sits Down with Kojo Nnamdi For “First Interview...

Video: AG Mark Herring Sits Down with Kojo Nnamdi For “First Interview After Admitting to Wearing Blackface in College”

"What's happened in Virginia has been painful, it is serious, and it deserves a lot of focused attention...for me and my team and the Attorney General's office"

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See below for video of Attorney General Mark Herring’s first interview after admitting to wearing “blackface,” and also highlights after the video. Note that the video apparently starts a few minutes into the interview, for whatever reason, so I’ll update this post when the full audio and/or video is put up by WAMU.

UPDATE 3 pm: Here’s the entire audio.

  • First, Herring explained his “blackface” incident back in 1980 when he was 19 years old, dressing up as rappers at a party. Herring said it was a “terrible decision,” “always wrong,” but at the time, he is “ashamed to say,” he didn’t realize it was wrong. Since then, he has learned “how it’s wrong, why it’s wrong…it is a dehumanization of people of color and a minimization of an oppressive history.” Herring said he’s “so very sorry” about what he did, and additional pain that brought to African Americans.
  • Herring said he has no idea if there’s a photo of this event.
  • Herring said he “really wrestled with what to do,” but ultimately felt he needed to come forward with this information in order to maintain his credibility.
  • Herring said it was a “one-time occurrence” that has “haunted” him “for decades.”
  • Herring said he was “shocked” and “crushed for Virginia” when Northam’s yearbook photo came out.
  • On why he called for Gov. Northam to resign but isn’t himself resigning, Herring said that he initially condemned the yearbook photos initially but didn’t call for Northam to resign. Then, the next day, when Northam came out “with a different and a contradictory account…that led to an erosion of the public trust, including the trust of those whose support he would need in order to govern effectively…and that’s when I issued a statement that I didn’t think he could lead going forward.”
  • And, Herring added, “that’s the standard that I would hold myself to, which is if I do something that results in a complete and irretrievable breach of trust with the public and those whose support I would need to do the job effectively, I would hold myself to the same standard.”
  • On the situation with Justin Fairfax, AG Mark Herring said that’s a “different but very difficult situation,” in which “two women have come forward with very serious allegations…criminal if true, and they deserve to be heard, they deserve to be treated with respect, and as Attorney General this is an area where I’ve worked a lot on, particularly on college campuses…I think all parties want some type of impartial investigation, I think that’s what should happen; the difficult thing is how does it happen…the two women have not filed criminal complaints…I do favor some mechanism to have a path to get the facts out.”
  • On Fairfax’s comparison of himself to lynching victims, Herring didn’t answer the question directly, but repeated that we need an “impartial investigation so we can get to the facts.”
  • On the question of how politics is playing into the decisions whether to step down or not, Herring said it’s “really about what’s best for Virginians…I am not a 19 year old, and soon after that embarrassing and shameful incident in college, I did change, I read a lot of history and economics and politics and I widened my circle of friends; I learned Arabic, I studied in Jordan, I reconnected with my faith, and the person that I was going in to college I was very different when I finished my studies.”
  • And, Herring added, as a public official, he “worked hard to preserve African-American cultural and historic resources…to protect voting rights and healthcare…to address a lot of the ongoing institutional racism that we see in our criminal justice system, with different drug policy, with cash bail reform, with reentry..twice went to the Supreme Court to defend …[restoration of] voting rights of over 150,000 Virginians.”
  • Herring said we need to be “honest about our history,” including “the legacy of racism and how that manifests itself in so many different ways, and look at what else we can do, whether it is with Confederate monuments and other reminders of that pas that need to be dealt with, and localities need the authority to be able to decide the future of those.”
  • Herring said we need to do more on addressing criminal justice reform. He noted that right now in Virginia, 19% of the population is African American, yet 58% of our prison population is African American. Regarding poverty, 18.8% of African American Virginians are living in poverty, compared to 8.8% of white Virginians. “We still have minority achievement gaps in education and healthcare…There’s a lot of work to do…to address the ongoing institutional and systemic racism that we see that persists throughout Virginia and elsewhere, and that is the work that lies ahead.”
  • On the idea of “reparations,” AG Herring noted that “this is the 400th anniversary of African Americans being brought in chains to Virginian and the institution of slavery…and that didn’t end with the Civil War, the slavery ended officially, but…Jim Crow followed and segregation and…mass incarceration and ongoing institutional systemic racism that we have *got* to address…to identify and rectify the ongoing racial inequities that exist today.”
  • Herring said he’s not focused at this point “at all” on whether or not he’s going to run for governor in 2021, but instead on what’s happened in Virginia over the past month “and what I might be able to do to repair the damage…[first] by acknowledging and admitting what I did, letting people know how sorry I am for it and that I know it’s wrong and why it was wrong, also listening to how it’s made other people feel about how I might be able to have some role in trying to repair that harm…that’s where I’m going to stay focused going forward.”
  • Herring said he’s “going to continue to do the business of Virginia,” but knows that we have to recognize that “what’s happened in Virginia has been painful, it is serious, and it deserves a lot of focused attention…for me and my team and the Attorney General’s office.”
  • On the ERA, Herring said he’s “so disappointed” that it didn’t pass the Virginia General Assembly this session, adds that it should have passed “long ago.” In Herring’s view, the defeat of the ERA, gun safety measures, etc. by General Assembly Republicans shows how important it is who we elect as our legislators.