Capeville Pastor Speaks at Governor’s Press Briefing

The Rev. Kelvin Jones, of First Baptist Church in Capeville, speaks at a June 2 press briefing as Gov. Ralph Northam looks on.

By Stefanie Jackson – Gov. Ralph Northam devoted the majority of his June 2 press briefing to addressing the tragedy of George Floyd – who died last week while restrained by Minneapolis police – and the ongoing protests that followed.

The Rev. Kelvin Jones, pastor of First Baptist Church in Capeville, was among the guests invited to speak.

“As we gather today, I believe that all of us will agree that these are turbulent times. We have seen the unfortunate, untimely, and unnecessary deaths of individuals of color, over and over again, by the hands of the cancerous portion of what is, without a doubt, an otherwise healthy and properly functioning group of police officers who, each day, risk their lives to protect and to serve,” he said.

“The call is to no longer tolerate the cancer that infects our police departments, but throughout America we must excise the cancer so that it does not destroy the majority of the body that functions properly and professionally and genuinely cares about the communities which they serve,” Jones continued.

The pastor called out the county attorney in Minnesota who did not announce criminal charges against a former Minneapolis police officer until after protests turned into riots.

Jones also condemned the actions of “looters and rioters who are merely being opportunist and hiding behind those whose pain is real and authentic.”

“What you are doing is deterring the efforts that could be used to identify and eliminate systemic racism in every place that it rears its ugly head,” he said.

“Today, the challenge to Virginia and the rest of the world is, during these turbulent times, will you speak truth to power? Will you stand as leaders united and open, not as Republicans or Democrats, not across the aisle, but in the aisle, united arm-in-arm, speaking so boldly, not in word, but in actions?”

The governor called the events of last week “heartbreaking. But that is not a new heartbreak for black Americans.

“Before George Floyd, there was Breonna Taylor, there was Ahmaud Arbery. And there’s a long list of names before them – people killed because in America, the color of their skin means that they are treated differently,” Northam said.

“Racism and discrimination aren’t locked in our past. They weren’t solved with the Civil Rights Act. They didn’t disappear, they evolved.

“They’re still with us in the disparities we see in educational attainment and school suspension rates, in maternal and neonatal mortality for black mothers and their babies, in our courts and prisons, and in our business practices.

“They’re with us in the health inequities that made black people and people of color more vulnerable to COVID-19,” he said.

Northam made a call to action “to right historical inequities” in health, education, and business opportunities.

That meant expanding Medicaid, funding for nurses to provide at-home visits to new mothers, doula programs, and tools for reducing maternal morbidity.

It also meant reforming criminal justice, including “new laws to stop taking someone’s driver’s license because they owe court fees. It meant decriminalizing marijuana. It meant making it easier to vote, not harder. It meant making Election Day a holiday so more people can vote. It meant finally ending the old holiday celebrating Confederate generals.

“It meant a new commission to study slavery in Virginia and subsequent racial and economic discrimination,” which Northam credited to Del. Delores McQuinn.

Northam highlighted four actions his administration will take soon to advance African American causes.

First, there will be virtual town halls on criminal justice reform and public safety.

Second, the governor will meet with the Virginia Association of Chiefs of Police board to ensure officers have adequate training “to do the right thing,” police forces become more diverse, and officers have more positive interactions with their communities.

Third, there will be “a statewide day of prayer, healing, and action.”

Fourth, work will continue to audit Virginia code for racial inequalities, particularly regarding criminal justice and public safety.

The Virginia General Assembly’s unanimous support for McQuinn’s commission is a “hopeful sign,” Northam said. “There is more work to do, as I said, and I am committed to doing that work.” 

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