OPINION: Lt. Governor Justin Fairfax deserves due process, just like any other ‘innocent until proven guilty’ Black man

Attorney Phillip Thompson believes the Commonwealth of Virginia should give Lt. Governor Justin Fairfax a chance to defend himself against his accusers in a legal courtroom and not in the court of public opinion.

Virginia Lt. Governor Justin Fairfax thegrio
Virginia Lt. Governor Justin Fairfax presides over the Senate at the Virginia State Capitol, February 7, 2019 in Richmond, Virginia. Virginia state politics are in a state of upheaval, with Governor Ralph Northam and State Attorney General Mark Herring both admitting to past uses of blackface and Lt. Governor Justin Fairfax accused of sexual misconduct. (Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images)

The Commonwealth of Virginia has reached a troubling crossroads as a result of the serious accusations of sexual misconduct raised against Lieutenant Governor Justin Fairfax by his accusers, Meredith Watson and Dr. Vanessa Tyson.

The nature and seriousness of these accusations have raised troubling questions as to whether Lieutenant Governor Fairfax will be forced to resign based solely on the accusations of his accusers. We should, however, remember that these are just accusations and nothing has been raised in a criminal forum. The future of a man’s life has seemingly come down to public opinion rather than the truthfulness of the claims being made.

The definition of credibility

Many people, who have heard and read the stories put out by the accusers, say their stories are credible. The key to all this is what exactly does credible mean? To date, we have not heard directly from the accusers. All we have are written statements procured through their legal representatives, which we cannot determine was self-prepared or produced by their attorneys. Dr. Tyson story actually includes some lewd details, but is wholly incomplete as to the full extent of the encounter with the Lt. Governor.

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To date, no one has been able to question these women on their actions during and after the alleged misconduct took place or to simply ask, why after all this time, (15 and 19 years respectively) did they believe they “had” to come forward explain this alleged trauma?

Neither of these women has had to answer any questions as to a potential financial windfall for coming forward or provide details on who is paying their legal bills. In the end, they have answered no questions at all and still there are those who can say with certainty that these women’s accounts are credible. These same people are calling on Lieutenant Governor Fairfax to resign, end of story.

A history against Black men

For many years in this country we have seen cases where unsubstantiated claims were made against Black men without granting them due process protections. Generally these men suffered harsh consequences, often resulting in death as the names hanging from the ceiling as part of the Lynching Memorial at the The National Memorial for Peace and Justice hold witness.

The U.S. Justice System rests on several key principals, one of which includes that an accused is innocent until “proven” guilty. The second is that the accused is allowed to face his or her accuser, which has not happened here.

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Lieutenant Governor Justin Fairfax is a man who convinced millions of voters in the Commonwealth of Virginia to elect him. Yet many like my colleague Sophia A Nelson have called for his resignation based on the claimed credibility and truthfulness of his accusers’ allegations without allowing a modicum of due process to properly examine those claims. Many in the public have essentially replaced justice and fairness with their personal speculation, feelings or beliefs.

The question here should not be, do we believe one or the other; but do we BELIEVE in fairness and due process. If we do, then let this process play out. Give Justin Fairfax a chance to defend himself.  Don’t let accusations replace justice because if you do, then you can just add his name to one of those hanging in Montgomery Alabama.

As to our Commonwealth of Virginia; the allegations and the actions of Governor Ralph Northam and Attorney General Mark Herring have also brought the state into the twin limelight of ridicule and embarrassment. The fact that the state’s three top elected officials have been hit with scandals, all at the same time is beyond comprehension.

READ MORE: Virginia Lt. Governor Justin Fairfax claims he had consent but can’t explain how in new interview as his law firm places him on leave amid sexual assault claims

Be that as it may, the governor and the attorney general’s transgressions, which differ in potential criminal jeopardy than that of Fairfax, involve racist behavior that is particularly egregious in light of Virginia’s 400 year old racist history. Unlike Fairfax, both of these white men have admitted their participation.

What is most interesting, is that these incidents involving the governor and attorney general have caused a domino effect in that more black face and other racist pictures have emerged from yearbooks, scrapbooks and libraries all across Virginia and other states. These findings have caused many white Virginians to take the “who knew” mantra, while African Americans have mostly taken a  “yeah right” attitude.

The idea that many of this state’s leaders have either participated in, witnessed and/or accepted black face or worse racist behavior demonstrates that the legacy of Virginia’s terrible past is still among us today. 

What’s next for Virginia?

Where the Commonwealth goes from here is anyone’s guess. Virginia has survived Charlottesville, but it’s uncertain as to whether its soul and character as it relates to racism have truly changed.  Whether Governor Northam, Lieutenant Governor Fairfax and Attorney General Herring survive these episodes seems more tied to Virginia’s past rather then its future.

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It is my belief that the citizens of Virginia, especially the white citizens, will be able to forgive the racism of black face more readily than Justin Fairfax.  He will not only have to contend with the accusations of today, but, also the ghost of Virginia’s racist past.

With that said, all I can say is, God help him.

Phillip Thompson is an attorney who serves on Virginia’s NAACP executive committee. He’s also moderated a debate between Northam and his Republican challenger in 2017.