Black leaders in northern Virginia found out that Gov. Ralph S. Northam (D) was going to hold what his office termed as a “community roundtable” in Prince William County last week as part of an “honest dialogue around confronting systemic issues of race and equity that persist to this day.”
We heard that this meeting was an “invitation only” affair and that several of his most vocal critics in the black community in northern Virginia had not been invited. We learned later that some critics subsequently were invited.
We understand that the governor has held several similar roundtables in other parts of the commonwealth, although no reports on the results of those discussions have been made available. What we do know is that these meetings were not publicly announced, were closed to the general public and no results of the questions asked, answers provided and pledges made have been reported in any detail.
We are all very aware of what Gov. Northam is trying to accomplish with this effort. Unfortunately, holding closed-door meetings will not accomplish what he seeks. Gov. Northam still has serious questions to answer. Republicans in this state will continue to remind him of this fact. His answers cannot be provided behind closed doors in controlled environments. He must answer these questions in front of the public, where the sincerity of his apologies and tenor of his explanations can be properly judged.
Gov. Northam also needs to face some of his toughest critics, especially those who campaigned, supported and ultimately voted for him. He owes them that much. He also needs to face the Virginia State Conference NAACP, which has not backed off its call for his resignation. He owes the organization that much respect.
Behind closed doors in controlled environments is not engagement; it’s a whitewash.
Phillip E. Thompson is a current member and past president of the Loudoun County Branch of the NAACP. This letter originally appeared in the Richmond Free Press.