United States

Virginia Senators, Congressmen Address Scandals

Virginia's two U.S. senators and seven Democratic congressmen have released a joint statement responding to the scandals that have engulfed the state's top three elected officials.

Similar to a recently released statement from the Virginia Legislative Black Caucus, the senators and congressmen do not call for the immediate resignations of either Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax or Attorney General Mark Herring.

In the Thursday night statement, the Democrats say they want an investigation into a sexual assault allegation levied against Fairfax.

They also say they are "shocked and saddened'' to learn that Herring wore blackface when he was in college. The Democrats say Herring has expressed "deep remorse'' and must continue to have "in-depth discussions'' if he is to regain the public's trust.

The statement says, "We have each publicly called for Governor Northam to resign.''

The Virginia Legislative Black Caucus issued a statement earlier Thursday night saying that a sexual assault allegation against Fairfax must be "thoroughly investigated.''

The lawmakers say they stand by their earlier call for Northam to resign over a racist photo in his medical school yearbook that featured someone in blackface and another person in Klan robes.

Days after the Northam scandal broke, Herring admitted that he had worn blackface in college. The caucus says it appreciates the attorney general's honesty but is waiting for him to act further to "reassure'' the state that he is fit to lead.

Below is the full statement from The Virginia Legislative Black Caucus:

The events of the past week in the Commonwealth of Virginia have disturbed us all, and recall a time when bigotry, intolerance, and lack of respect for all our residents were accepted in the corridors of power. We recognize that these recent findings and allegations have ripped open wounds for the African American community and sexual assault survivors across the country and we empathize with them all. We want to emphasize as the Virginia Legislative Black Caucus stands with the constituents of our great Commonwealth in declaring that bigotry and mistreatment of any of our residents are unacceptable.

The issues in our current political leadership are not partisan issues. They are issues of basic decency, civil rights and justice for all parties involved. The Caucus recognizes that the admitted past use of blackface by Governor Ralph Northam and Attorney General Mark Herring, and the sexual assault allegations regarding Lt. Governor Justin Fairfax are all weighted equally in matter of importance to our Commonwealth and its leadership. Our responses to each, however, must be based on their individual facts and circumstances.

We called for Governor Northam’s resignation sharply and swiftly because all of the facts were before us immediately. That is still our position.

It’s been said that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. The flipside of that coin is that mockery is the greatest form of insult. Blackface is mockery, and therefore it is an insult. An insult used for entertainment, by those who aspire to political leadership is dangerous because it betrays a lack of compassion and a temperament of untrustworthiness where black lives are concerned. This was as true in 1984 as it was in 1904, 1924 or 1954.

Every member of the Caucus and many of our colleagues in the Capitol were pained by the revelations of Gov. Northam’s and Attorney General Herring’s past behavior. Those actions showed a tremendous lack of judgment and compassion for Virginia’s black residents and unacceptable ignorance of some of our Commonwealth’s most historically painful chapters. While we appreciate the candor of Attorney General Herring’s disclosure, we await further action on his part to reassure the citizens of the Commonwealth of his fitness for leadership.

The Caucus also recognizes the need to address the troubling allegations leveled against Lt. Gov. Fairfax. Sexual assault is a very serious offense, and we believe that all allegations of sexual assault must be fully and thoroughly investigated by the appropriate agencies. We believe that victims deserve to have their claims taken seriously. And we believe that anyone accused of such a grievous act must receive the due process prescribed by the Constitution. We support, and we expect, justice to be meted out fairly for all involved in this situation and will continue to monitor it closely and act accordingly.

As we move forward, let us not forget the Commonwealth commemorates its 400 th Anniversary this year. We are mindful that Virginia is the birthplace of this country’s painful history that still haunts us today. The legacy of slavery, racism, and the Jim Crow era remains an albatross around the necks of African Americans. We can no longer hide behind a facade of unity, we must fiercely and intentionally combat the hatred of the past that still lives today. We stand united in calling out and renouncing all racist and offensive acts, no matter the political party of the perpetrator.

Copyright AP - Associated Press
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