RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — On Tuesday, Gov. Ralph Northam addressed several days of protests for the first time in person and announced that most of the state could move forward to ‘Phase Two’ of the reopening process.
Entering Phase Two
Northam said that the Commonwealth will begin ‘Phase Two’ on Friday, June 5. He said Northern Virginia and Richmond will remain in ‘Phase One’ for now, though he is allowing Accomack County–hard hit by outbreaks in its poultry plants–to move straight into the second phase with the rest of the state.
The governor gave some details on what ‘Phase Two’ will look like on Tuesday but said he will release more information at his next press conference on Thursday.
- Restaurants can have indoor seating at 50 percent capacity
- Gyms can have indoor classes and workouts at 30 percent capacity
- Pools can open with restrictions
- Entertainment venues like museums and zoos can open with restrictions
- Recreational sports will be allowed but there can be no shared equipment
- Gatherings will be limited to 50 people rather than 10
Addressing the George Floyd protests
Rallies and riots surrounding the death of George Floyd in police custody in Minneapolis have persisted throughout the commonwealth since Friday but Northam hasn’t spoken publicly about them until now.
Asked why he waited until Tuesday to address the situation in-person, Northam said that he worked closely with local leaders, law enforcement and the Virginia National Guard throughout the weekend.
Alongside African American leaders at Tuesday’s press conference, Northam committed to listen, learn and continue to address institutionalized racism in Virginia. He acknowledged that the pain felt by people of color isn’t new.
“I cannot know the depth of your pain but what I can do is stand with you and I can support you and, together, we are going to turn this pain into action,” Northam said.
Northam recapped some of the changes made during the 2020 General Assembly, when the state’s Democratic majority passed several criminal justice reforms, expanded voting access and took steps to take down Confederate monuments.
Moving forward, Northam said he’s going to do four things:
- Hold town halls about criminal justice reforms
- Work with police leadership to improve officer training, community relations and staff diversity
- Create a statewide ‘Day of Prayer’
- Ask the African American Advisory Board to continue to review Virginia Code for laws that perpetuate racial inequity, with a focus on criminal justice and public safety
The governor said–while these actions won’t bring back lives lost–they will move the state forward so future generations won’t live in fear because of the color of their skin.
Northam also addressed a recent phone call when President Donald Trump reportedly told the nation’s governors to “dominate” protestors by deploying the National Guard in full force. The call came on the same day that the president threatened to send the U.S. Military to states that failed to control violence and looting.
“The message regrettably was not one of healing, it was not one of unity, it was one of divisiveness and I regret that coming from the leader of the most powerful country in the world,” Northam said.
On Tuesday, Northam also denied the president’s request to deploy up to 5,000 Virginia National Guard members to respond to protests in Washington D.C.
Northam said he made the decision because the city’s mayor didn’t request assistance. He added that the National Guard is needed to respond to protests and the pandemic in the commonwealth. So far, Northam’s administration says about 380 members have supported law enforcement during protests.
“I’m not going to send our men and women in uniform of a very proud National Guard to Washington for a photo op,” Northam said.
The governor said he’s concerned about the impact of large protests on the coronavirus pandemic. He said protesters should try to stay six feet apart and wear face masks.