by Terry McAuliffe, cross-posted from Medium
These past few days I’ve taken the role of active listener to the pain expressed by black families and individuals all across the United States, and across our Commonwealth. I know I can’t truly understand the pain so many are feeling right now in Richmond, Minneapolis, Louisville, Atlanta, and beyond. But as someone with a platform, I can listen and acknowledge that pain — a result of our nation’s sordid history — because we’re never going to move forward unless we acknowledge that institutional racism still exists today.
George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, and too many other black lives were taken by the legacy of hate. It is the hate that brought slaves to Jamestown, Virginia; the hate that drove our Commonwealth to the wrong side of history fighting to keep those slaves; and the hate that codified Jim Crow laws in our books. But we can’t pretend that repealing Jim Crow laws has gotten rid of their legacy. Black Americans continue to be incarcerated and suffer from violence at the hands of police at an unacceptably disproportionate rate; black children continue to be more likely to live and attend school in an area of concentrated poverty, and be disciplined more severely; and at this moment black communities continue to be ravaged by COVID at an alarming rate. The disproportionate weight of police brutality in black communities is part of that legacy too. And, at its worst, that legacy can drive hate out in the open with the same violence we saw on August 12, 2017.
What happened in Charlottesville will forever be one of the darkest days of my life. It was important for me to directly call out the hate and tell white supremacists they have no home in Virginia. This was a time to stand united as Virginians and Americans of all stripes. Unfortunately, as we are seeing again in the middle of tremendous pain and grief, President Trump did nothing to show moral leadership and bring us together. He continues to traffic in division and hate — calling for military force in American cities and using “shooting/looting” slogans from racist officials of our past.
Instead of hateful rhetoric designed to divide our country, President Trump should look to our Commonwealth as a recent example on the long path to addressing our country’s historical wrongs. One of my proudest accomplishments as Governor was reversing Jim Crow Era disenfranchisement and restoring more voting rights than any governor in U.S. history. It took individual signatures and overcoming Republican legal efforts, but I could not allow for hundreds of thousands of Virginians, most of who were black, to continue being robbed of their most fundamental right after they had served their time and paid their debt to society. The laws I sought to overcome were designed by a racist legislator who said his intent loud and clear in 1901: “This plan will eliminate the darkie as a political factor.”
It was also important to me that those same second chances were available in employment. That is why I issued an Executive Order to “ban the box” and remove criminal history questions from its standard employment applications so those who made mistakes were given a full opportunity to succeed.
In the aftermath of Charlottesville, we created the Commonwealth Commission on Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion to identify policy changes to combat intolerance, expand opportunities, and make Virginia more open and inclusive. And I took steps to send a message about our modern Commonwealth, like banning the Confederate Flag from Virginia license plates.
And thanks to the new Democratic majority in the General Assembly, Virginia has removed racist language from our state code, expanded Virginians’ ability to vote, given localities the ability to remove Confederate statues, tackled discrimination in public housing, and enacted reforms to our criminal justice system.
Let’s be clear, though. We have made strides to make our Commonwealth more equitable, but we have much further to go on health care, education, housing, jobs, voting, economic equity and police violence. We also need equity in health care for people of color, fixing the disparities in their coverage, quality of treatment, and chronic illnesses — disparities that have become even more apparent during the coronavirus pandemic. We need to invest in education for communities of color, providing the skills for 21st Century jobs from community colleges in minority communities to HBCUs across Virginia.
Just on police reform, in Virginia we can immediately take action to ban the use of choke holds and any other lethal restraint, increasing state funding for police body cameras and mandating their use across the Commonwealth, establish increased review and removal process for police officers who commit misconduct and much more.
And as I have said as I traveled the country, state law changes can only go so far and it is past time for criminal justice reform in America — we need a criminal justice revolution. One that understands that even though laws on the books may no longer have written discriminatory words, they are enforced disproportionately against minority communities.
While now is a time to listen and understand, it is also a time to act. It is a time to say it loud and clear: Black Lives Matter. And because they matter, we need to make sure black lives have a better quality of life and treatment under the law. As the Virginia of Sally Hemings, Lucy Simms, Maggie Walker, Oliver Hill, and Barbara Johns, I’m going to continue demanding that Virginia lead the way.
In the coming days, your member of Congress will likely be voting on very necessary policing reforms. One thing we can all do right now is to call or email our representative and ask them to support common sense changes to reduce police violence that disproportionately impacts black citizens. You can find your representative and their contact information here: https://www.house.gov/representatives/find-your-representative