A Virginia politician hoping to be elected as the state’s governor has likened himself to George Floyd and Emmett Till, saying that he understands what it is like to be falsely accused, after allegations were made of sexual assault.
Justin Fairfax, the Lieutenant Governor of the state, is one of five Democrats hoping to replace Ralph Northam – who cannot serve a consecutive term – in November.
The candidates, in their first gubernatorial debate, were asked about policing in the state, in light of the current trial in Minneapolis of Derek Chauvin, accused of the murder of George Floyd.
Fairfax, 42, who is black, said he, like them, knew what it was to be falsely accused.
Justin Fairfax, pictured during Tuesday’s debate, in which he likened himself to Floyd and Till
Floyd died while being arrested for using a fake $20 bill in May last year. Till was tortured and murdered aged 14 in Mississippi in 1955 for talking to a white woman.
Fairfax is accused by Meredith Watson of raping her in 2000, while Vanessa Tyson says he assaulted her in 2004.
On Tuesday night, Tyson tweeted after the debate: ‘Let me be very clear: I DO NOT regret coming forward publicly about the traumatic sexual assault that took place in Boston in July 2004.
‘I stand behind my decision to come forward and the statement I made in February 2019. There was NO conspiracy against any elected official.’
Fairfax vehemently denies their allegations.
‘The murder of George Floyd was horrific, but it recalls a history in Virginia and in our nation where African-Americans — and particularly African-American men — are presumed to be guilty, are treated inhumanely, are given no due process, and had their lives impacted, and in some cases taken away, in an instant,’ Fairfax said.
‘In the interest of speaking truth to power here… we can’t just talk theoretically about what generally happens.
‘But we have a real-world example, where I was falsely accused in 2019.’
Fairfax said that the other four on the stage – former governor Terry McAuliffe; former state delegates Jennifer Carroll Foy and Lee Carter; and state senator Jennifer McClellan – all rushed to judgement.
The five candidates for the Democrat nomination to contest November’s gubernatorial election: from left – Lee Carter, Terry McAuliffe, Jennifer McClellan, Jennifer Carroll Foy, and Fairfax
Fairfax is pictured in April 2020, gaveling in the Virginia Senate in Richmond
One of Fairfax’s accusers on Tuesday night said she stood by her allegations
‘Everyone here on this stage called for my immediate resignation, including Terry McAuliffe three minutes after a press release came out,’ said Fairfax.
‘He treated me like George Floyd, he treated me like Emmett Till, no due process, immediately assumed my guilt.
‘I have a son and I have a daughter. I never want my daughter to be assaulted. I don’t want my son to be falsely accused.
‘And yet this is the real world that we live in.
‘And so we need to speak truth to power and be very clear about how it impacts people’s lives.’
It is not the first time that Fairfax has compared him to black people killed at the hands of white people.
In 2019, when the sexual assault allegations were first made, Fairfax compared himself to Jim Crow-era lynching victims in a surprise Senate speech, as he resists widespread calls to resign.
Vanessa Tyson (pictured) accused Fairfax of forcing her to perform oral sex in his hotel room during the Democratic National Convention in Boston in 2004
‘I’ve heard much about anti-lynching on the floor of this very Senate, where people were not given any due process whatsoever, and we rue that,’ Fairfax said, referencing legislation the General Assembly passed expressing ‘profound regret’ for lynchings in Virginia between 1877 and 1950.
‘And we talk about hundreds, at least 100 terror lynchings that have happened in the Commonwealth of Virginia under those very same auspices,’ he said.
‘And yet we stand here in a rush to judgment with nothing but accusations and no facts and we decide that we are willing to do the same thing.’
When he finished his five-minute impromptu speech, stunned senators sat in awkward silence.