I was going to spend this evening blogging about my recent job offer and doing some research for my latest writing project, but today is not that day. Instead, I’m sifting through news articles trying to understand everything that happened in Charlottesville, Virginia yesterday.
Here’s everything I understand so far:
A protest was scheduled for noon on Saturday, August 12th, 2017, in response to the removal of a Confederate statue depicting General Robert E. Lee. The organizer was Jason Kessler, a resident and white nationalist (read: Nazi) of Charlottesville.
However, protesters marched at the University of Virginia on Friday night, carrying Confederate and Nazi flags as well as torches, chanting “Jews will not replace us” as they gathered around a statue depicting Thomas Jefferson. That protest ended in a brawl between protesters and counter-protesters, with at least one person being led away in handcuffs.
The evening protest drew national attention and caused the Virginia governor, Terry McAuliffe, to declare a state of emergency before the Saturday protest was even scheduled to start, and the (Saturday) protest was declared an unlawful assembly, though people continued to protest and counter-protest during the day. According to some of the sources I’ve read (here and here), the police did not attempt to form a barrier between the opposing sides, and did nothing to shut down violence.
Finally, the protest turned deadly when James Alex Fields, Jr., a white nationalist (read: Nazi), plowed a car into a group of counter-protesters (peaceful civilians). 19 people were injured and Heather Heyer, a 32-year-old paralegal, died.
Two police officers also died, though their deaths were due to a helicopter crash en route to the protests, and no foul play is suspected in their deaths.
David Duke, former leader of the Ku Klux Klan, has been quoted multiple times in his crediting the rally to Donald Trump. He said “This represents a turning point for the people of this country. We are determined to take our country back. We are going to fulfill the promises of Donald Trump. That’s what we believed in, that’s why we voted for Donald Trump because he said he’s going to take our country back and that’s what we’re going to do.”
While Trump has yet to respond to Duke’s words, he did Tweet early Saturday afternoon, saying “We ALL must be united & condemn all that hate stands for. There is no place for this kind of violence in America. Lets come together as one!” After the vehicular attack on counter-protesters, Trump gave a press conference, saying “We condemn in the strongest most possible terms this egregious display of hatred, bigotry and violence on many sides. On many sides.”
I live in South Haven, Michigan, a little tourist town on the coast of Lake Michigan, just a few hours north of Chicago. This weekend was our busiest weekend as we celebrated the National Blueberry Festival. Looking at my little town, you would never guess all that was going on in the world. The residents and tourists of South Haven are mainly middle-class white people, and we like to pretend that South Haven is protected by an invisible bubble. As long as the sun is out, everything is fine, right?
Just 45 minutes southeast of us, in Kalamazoo, a protest in response to the Charlottesville violence has already come and gone. And in hundreds of other cities across the country, other protests and vigils have also occurred.
I’m disturbed by our lack of response to what has been international news. And this is not the only time we have dropped the ball. South Haven failed to make any sort or response to the Flint, Michigan crisis, and that was considerably closer to home. And a few years ago, buildings within a Jewish camp just outside of town were spray painted with swastikas. But as long as the business owners of South Haven can still rake in money, everything is fine.
It’s not just true of South Haven, just as nothing is ever true of one person or group. In this country, we like to ignore our fellow Americans unless we either share in their plight or our daily lives are disrupted by protests We think that it’s not our responsibility, that it isn’t our business, or that someone else will take the steps to do the things that we ought to do. And the result is a country that has never been and will never be equal or “great.”
For the first time ever, I find myself Googling “how to protest” and “how to get protest permits.” I’m not a confrontational person, I don’t like speaking in front of others, and yet, no one wants to address the reality outside of our pretend bubble. Small, white American towns like South Haven just aren’t sending enough of a message to our government.
It’s time to talk about the things that “aren’t our problem.”