I believe in grace, and by extension, in forgiveness. However, when it comes to former Tallahassee mayor and Florida gubernatorial candidate Andrew Gillum, who in mid-March was found in a compromising position in a Miami hotel room, I have struggled to forgive as swiftly as others.
That doesn’t mean I want to kick Gillum while he is down, or to further shame and pile on. I am concerned for him, and — despite how these next few hundred words may sound — feel deeply bad for him. I genuinely hope he finds some sense of peace, and if he so desires, finds a way to rebuild his political career.
Nevertheless, when I think of what he has been accused of and with whom, I’m still stuck on how a man who was on the rumored short-list for vice president in 2020 could have (allegedly) behaved so recklessly. No, not recklessly: fucking stupidly. How can someone at his age at this stage in his career be (allegedly) acting so damn goofy?
The details being what they were, some outlets were always going to dive in with glee, and the despicable Daily Mail led the way. Perhaps more than its lurid story, it was the photos — the “[p]lastic baggies of suspected crystal meth, empty beer bottles and prescription pills…seen scattered among trash and soiled bedding,” as the paper breathlessly described — that were so utterly unnecessary. Before Gillum is a political hopeful, a former mayor, a CNN political analyst, he is a person; a person with a spouse and children.
Those facts also seemed to be lost on Candace Owens, who — disappointingly, if not surprisingly — obtained Gillum’s police report and shared it with her 2 million Twitter followers. And on blogger Jacob Engels, who first published the unverified photo of a man believed to be Gillum passed out on the ground near his own vomit. That isn’t just cruel, it’s debasing.
I want Black men to stop feeling like they may have to hide parts of themselves to have a certain kind of life. I feel for those who suffer under the constraints most of us are born with as Black boys and men. At the same time, we need to call out selfishness when we see it.
Whatever happened in Room 1107 at Miami’s Mondrian Hotel that night, the fact that it didn’t take long for the seamiest details to ooze into print does make one wonder if Gillum was set up. While I’m not the first to voice those suspicions, and have to acknowledge that they haven’t been confirmed, I share them given that Engels, according to The Advocate, “obtained the photograph with the help of Enrique Tarrio, a congressional candidate in South Florida and a member of the Proud Boys, designated as a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center.”
I’m not about to tap Scooby Doo and the Mystery Machine or Angela Lansbury (I’ve been watching Murder, She Wrote on Prime Video in order to fully turn into my mother) to solve the riddle of whether or not Gillum was really set up. I don’t think it matters.
Gillum set himself up.
Before this, Gillum could have easily gone on to become governor, senator, vice president, or even president. Yes, fuck all of the bigots and their Black friends who function as the hired help or Black mascot for White supremacy. Believe me, I don’t even like to write the name Candace Owens. Yet, it remains Andrew Gillum’s fault. Tacky is as tacky does.
Others are exercising more kindness than I am, largely because of this very clear push from the right to take Gillum down. Preston Mitchum and Dr. Michael J. Seaberry, along with hundreds of Black men, have signed a letter in support of the politician. On why they released the letter, they write at theGrio, “We did so because all too often Black men are rarely afforded opportunities to fail, perpetuated by media coverage willing to swallow us whole…. It is that precise reason why many people found it difficult to discuss what’s happening with Gillum — we aren’t exactly sure how to have this conversation.”
I find their gesture graceful and kind, especially in a moment we could all stand to be a bit more compassionate. And like them, I’m not sure how to have this conversation either. I want Black men to stop feeling like they may have to hide parts of themselves to have a certain kind of life, either personally or professionally. I feel for those who suffer under the constraints most of us are born with as Black boys and men.
At the same time, as much as we could all stand to be more graceful, we still need to call out selfishness when we see it. This isn’t the first time Gillum has been accused of poor behavior as a public official; I recall him being subjected to an ethics inquiry after he accepted tickets to the Broadway show Hamilton from an undercover FBI agent. Granted, there’s a hell of a gap between free tickets and whatever this shit with the drugs and escorts is (allegedly), but a pattern emerges: Even when Gillum has a good thing going for him, he may do something that could jeopardy his ambition — ambition he no longer shares just with himself, but with so many others.
That’s why I continue to struggle. Andrew Gillum already knew what it was like to have a target on his back. He knew that his professional prospects, as well as the people in his life — his wife, his children — could all be jeopardized by something like this. I just don’t understand the carelessness — down to the type of people he allegedly was associating with that night.
As bad as I feel bad for him, Black men also need to hold a mirror up to each other when need be. Not to induce shame; not to make them feel lower as we feign being better; simply to say, you need to look at yourself and how you move. You need to see how that shit impacts you.
Yes, as Black men there are a lot of people against us. Yes, there is a conservative media complex designed to take out politicians like you, and the mainstream media has enough suckers in it to magnify whatever those crazy folks on the right dredge up — but why give them material?
People have their secrets; some just keep them better than others. That’s not an endorsement of lying — merely speaking to the point that Andrew Gillum has long been a man of great promise who, like many men of great promise, fell short out of ego. This man was moving like someone who had nothing to lose. I don’t hate this man the way they do. I just hope this man becomes a better one because this has brought pain to people. I understand the factors why, but patterns must be broken. We all should do our part.
Gillum says he has voluntarily entered rehab for what he described as “alcohol abuse” and “depression.” Additionally, he “will be stepping down from all public facing roles for the foreseeable future.”
“This has been a wake-up call for me,” he said in a written statement. “Since my race for governor ended, I fell into a depression that has led to alcohol abuse. I witnessed my father suffer from alcoholism and I know the damaging effects it can have when untreated. I also know that alcoholism is often a symptom of deeper struggles.”
I will exercise grace here and not set this written statement on fire — even if I feel tempted. What I will say for Gillum, and those already cheering him on for a comeback, is that while time can heal wounds, that only happens after a person comes completely clean. And there’s much cleaning left to do.