In case you missed it, this weekend was not a great one for tolerance in America. A state of emergency was declared in Charlottesville, Virgina on Saturday when protesters and counter-protesters clashed over the removal of a Confederate memorial in Charlottesville’s Emancipation Park. If you weren’t up on the play-by-play of the violence on the weekend, here are the things you should know.
Why were there protests in the first place?
The initial protest was a planned event by white supremacists to ‘Unite the Right’ and protest the city’s decision to remove the statue of Robert E. Lee, a Confederate general. Any time a Confederate memorial is removed, crews are met with protests and marches to protect the symbol of the American South.
What’s the big deal about the confederacy again?
During the American Civil War, the Confederate flag became the symbol of the American South (i.e. the ones who fought to keep slavery). To certain groups of people, confederate memorials and flags are even now seen as a symbol of the distinct culture of the South that many would like to hold on to. Those people include white supremacists and the K.K.K.
Yes, the Confederate flag and memorials are part of Southern ‘heritage,’ but they are also symbols of slavery, segregation, hatred and white nationalism. For pretty much everyone else, symbols of the Confederacy are seen as racist and hateful.
What happened on the weekend?
The protests started Friday night with several hundred white nationalists marching on the University of Virginia carrying torches and chanting racist and anti-Semitic slogans. If you think that sounds like some crazy K.K.K. rally right out of history, you wouldn’t be far off.
The ‘alt-right’ group met a gathering of counter-protesters who were rallying on campus and jeers turned into a full-out brawl between the two sides. Virginia governor Terry McAuliff declared a state of emergency as the violence escalated. The fighting lasted into the night and continued into Saturday until 1:45pm when a 20-year-old man, identified by police as James Alex Fields Jr., drove a Dodge Charger into a crowd of counter-protesters. There were 19 injured by the car and one woman, Heather D. Heyer, 32, was killed. A total of 34 people were injured over the course of the weekend.
Our condolences go out to the family of Heather D. Heyer who was killed by a terrorist in Charlottesville, Virginia as she protested Neo-Nazism and white supremacy. Heather sacrificed her life in the fight for social and racial justice. She will not be forgotten. The best way for us to truly honor her memory is to make sure that, every day, we continue that struggle. Together, we will create a nation free of hatred, free of racism, free of sexism, free of homophobia, free of xenophobia.
So who started the violence?
According to those on the ground, the right-wing protesters were armed for a fight with shields, protective gear and guns. There was no question of their agenda: they want a whiter America.
The counter-protesters included a large spectrum of the rest of the U.S., including Black Lives Matter members, self-proclaimed ‘anti-fascists’ and even 100 religious leaders.
While both groups participated in the brawl, it is clear that one side came with violence and hatred in mind and the other came to protect their own rights and freedoms and fight against hateful intolerance.
Trump’s less than satisfying response
In times of great tragedy and hatred, citizens look toward their leader for encouragement. Multitudes of Republicans, Democrats and people in other nations came out to condemn the violence in Virginia, white nationalism and Nazism. Donald Trump’s statement left much to be desired and didn’t single out white supremacists and neo-Nazis in particular. Instead, he referred to ‘hatred, bigotry and violence on many sides,’ which many said equated the actions and motivations of both the protesters and counter-protesters. We’re not talking about mere differences of opinion here; we’re talking about one side that genuinely believes in their own superiority over others because of the colour of their skin which needed to be acknowledged publicly.
We will continue to follow developments in Charlottesville, and will provide whatever assistance is needed. We are ready, willing and able. pic.twitter.com/mCTYBgUePi
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) August 12, 2017
The White House spent two days trying to do damage control saying that ‘of course’ Trump’s condemnation of violence ‘includes white supremacists, K.K.K, neo-Nazi and all extremist groups.’ It wasn’t until the afternoon on Monday–after two days of criticism–that Trump clarified his own statement.
— CNN Politics (@CNNPolitics) August 14, 2017
‘Racism is evil,’ he said this time, ‘And those who cause violence in its name are criminals and thugs, including KKK, neo-Nazis, white supremacists, and other hate groups are repugnant to everything we hold dear as Americans.’ Most people are saying this is the speech Trump needed to give on Saturday and this stronger statement comes too late. Especially since the man is known for his quickness to condemn terrorism in other instances.
If Trump had given speech like this on Saturday, we’d have commended him. On Monday, it does nothing for me. Zero. I suspect, I’m not alone.
— Ana Navarro (@ananavarro) August 14, 2017
For a guy who hates teleprompters, this jerk can’t even condemn racism without one. If I wasn’t so mad, I would laugh.
— olivia wilde (@oliviawilde) August 14, 2017
We’re not immune in Canada
While we don’t have the Confederate history here in Canada, we can’t forget that we too had slavery at one point and we have our own racial injustices now. There is violence, hatred, bigotry and domestic terrorism in our fair land too and we also need to be vigilant of it and fight against it. We can be proud knowing that our leader was quick to speak out against the events in Charlottesville at least. It’s scary to think that instances like this can still happen in 2017, but it certainly gives us a little reality check and reminds us that this kind of extremism is out there.
We know Canada isn’t immune to racist violence & hate. We condemn it in all its forms & send support to the victims in Charlottesville.
— Justin Trudeau (@JustinTrudeau) August 13, 2017