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Northam: A Prisoner's Perspective

The recent exposure of Governor Ralph Northam's past has the whole Commonwealth in an uproar, and though initially such news was also shocking to my conscious, I was quickly brought back to the reality of exactly where I am. After all, this is the Commonwealth of Virginia, once the Capital of the Confederacy. All one has to do is take a ride down Monument avenue in Richmond to be reminded. If that isn't enough, just look at the celebration of Lee -Jackson Day here in Virginia (which is always before MLK Day), or the recent events of Charlottesville. I began to wonder just how many other politicians have just as rich a history as Master Northam? What I do know is that whatever is in the darkness will always come into the light. Northam initially took responsibility for the photo by apologizing for his past actions as being racist. On the next day he stated that this is not him in the photo although he did once dress up for a dance competition as Michael Jackson (whose name he couldn't remember), where he stated that he put some shoe polish on so as to appear black. Well, as prisoners seeking to be pardoned, paroled, or forgiven for our past deeds, we are told take responsibility for our actions in order to receive such forgiveness, but here we have the highest official in the Commonwealth who won't take responsibility. What type of example is that? In my opinion, to be dressed in Black Face and pose with a domestic terrorist (someone dressed in KKK attire), as well as have the nickname of "Goose Coonman" appear under his VMI yearbook photo, is an egregious offense against the peace and dignity of the Commonwealth for which Northam now seeks forgiveness. But isn't this the same individual that said that he believes that Truth-In-Sentencing (TIS), which is one of the most unforgiving laws ever created, is working. TIS means "no parole," and parole is all about forgiveness and mercy. It gives the prisoner the opportunity to show the world that he is, "not the same man that he used to be." Sound familiar? What's even more disturbing to me is that this photo is from a medical college yearbook. Who is that under the white hood and robe? This is potentially someone's doctor. What I have found alarming is that statistics show that 22% of Blacks avoid medical treatment due to their fear of discrimination. This is over 8 million people. I wonder how many doctors have used their position as medical professionals to further a racist agenda or exemplify their bias? Probably the same amount as those that are police, lawyers, politicians, etc. What this incident with Northampton has shown is that the roots of both systemic and individual racism run deep into the the social and political fabric of this country. The only people who are saying "I can't believe it" are those who are living under the false notion that we have left history behind and that it does not have an effect upon today. The truth is you cannot leave the past behind, for it is the past that makes you who you are today. The key is not living in the past, rather we have to live in the present with our past as a compass to direct us toward a better tomorrow. Perhaps if Northam would have accepted responsibility and used his past as such, there would be hope for him, but he has chosen to try and cover his compass. Perhaps one day he will find his way, just not as Governor of the Commonwealth.

To say that I was correct about other officials possibly having a history of racism (or racist acts) was clearly proven by the coming out of the Attorney General Mark Herring in the shadow of Governor Ralph Northam. His attempt to get ahead of any exposure does not lessen the effect of this revelation. This is the man elected to the highest office of law enforcement where he oversees one of the most precious rights which is the First Amendment right to petition the government for a redress of grievances. For those who don't know, anytime a citizen files a petition or civil action against the Commonwealth or one of it's agents, the Attorney General and his office will represent the Commonwealth. For those of us who have found ourselves on the wrong side of the law, we learn that there is a petition called a writ of habeas corpus which is a writ to have you brought before the court when your constitutional rights have been violated. Once this is filed with either the Warden or Director of the VADOC listed as the Respondent/Defendant, the office of the Attorney General argues on their behalf. The exposure of Mark Herring's past has caused many of us to question his ability to hold his position, and many have called for his resignation. Some have said that this is a matter of integrity. As for men and women in prison, when it comes to post-conviction relief most of them will tell you that if you don't have a lawyer to assist you in filing a petition, it is as if you have filed no petition at all. The courts do not respect "pro se" (those who file without an attorney) litigants. Knowing this, it is impossible for us to have any faith in the justice system when it comes time for us to have a fair shake. Now, let's add the currents events to the equation. Mark Herring and his staff is who I, as a prisoner, have to go through when it comes to litigating constitutional violations that may have been committed against me. As Black man I have to wonder if Mr. Herring's past has had any effect upon how his office handles the cases of those whom he chose to mock and degrade in his past. How can I be sure that he still doesn't hold those types of views today? It's not like he has such a wonderful track record of fighting against racial inequality with his position and status, so how can I trust him? He has also come forth, and asked for forgiveness, but he was one of the first to say that Governor Ralph Northam should step down. At this point, I must be critical and express the obvious. No one can tell me that he didn't recall dressing up in Blackface at the time he was calling for Northam's resignation, so what's really going on here? Is it a plot and a ploy to ensure that they remain in office by praying upon the mercy of those in the Black community who would forgive them based upon promises of fighting for "racial equity" as Northam has said? Or is it now that the top three Virginia Government officials (Northam, Fairfax, and Herring) are caught up in scandals, the Democratic party cannot afford to remove all three? How do you choose the lesser of three evils if one has to occupy the seat? With the current atmosphere surrounding Justin Fairfax and the now 2 allegations of rape against him, the issue of Blackface has taken a backseat. This is remarkable to me because these are only allegations against Fairfax, but we have actual physical evidence and an admission against Northam and Herring. Now, I am in no way condoning the type of acts that Fairfax is accused of, but due process is a part of the constitution, and a man is supposed to be innocent until proven guilty. If Fairfax is guilty then he should get everything that he deserves, but he should not be used to downplay the racism exemplified through Blackface. Must I remind everyone that the culture from which Blackface evolves advocated the enslaving, murdering, terrorizing and "raping" of Blacks for hundreds of years. This is no small matter, and it must not be taken as such. Do not allow the powers that be to control the narrative of just how damaging racism has been and still is. Systemic racism is woven into the very fabric of the Government as we know it, but the thread is so well camouflaged that you can hardly detect it. It takes a well trained eye to point it out at times but this does not mean that we should ever stop looking. For those who are Caucasian and say that they are not racist, you must not sit idly by and allow for racist laws and policies to exist, for if you do and you express no interest in changing it, then your silence means consent, and you become a defacto supporter. I say this because the idea of race was born through white supremacy, and it has always benefited whites at the expense of all others.

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