This past weekend, a white man from Ohio traveled hundreds of miles to Charlottesville with the proximate goal of “protecting” from removal that city’s Confederate monuments. After police declared the angry mob of frothing racists he joined an unlawful assembly, this man used his car to murder 32-year-old Heather Heyer and wound a dozen other people.
Heyer’s death marked a weekend that began with a terrifying torch-lit rally on the University of Virginia’s Lawn. Hundreds of pale and flaccid white supremacists bearing tiki torches shambled about shouting/pleading “You will not replace us.” Eventually, they cornered a dozen or so college students and hurled insults before throwing punches.
At some point, two state troopers died when a helicopter crashed while assisting public safety efforts for the rallies.
After the protests and counter protests in Charlottesville disbanded, the Governor issued a strong statement, telling white supremacists to, “go home”. The Mayor also issued a statement of his own, condemning “the despicable violence carried out today by white supremacists and new-Nazi thugs.” The weekend ended with both the mayor and the governor at the Reconciliation Statue downtown for a prayer vigil and unity rally.
Maybe, like me, you watched these events unfold, saw the entire nation looking at the little town west of us, and thought “When this happens here, what will we do?” It’s a good question. Are we prepared for the terrorism—physical, mental, and emotional—that white supremacists will inflict on our community? Do we trust our leaders—elected and otherwise—to make smart decisions when people and property are at risk? How will those of us privledged enough to never once think about the impact of white supremacists on their lives support those for whom it’s a daily reality?
These aren’t hypotheticals either: The RTD confirmed that a member of the Sons of Confederate Veterans has asked the state for a permit for an event on September 16th at the Lee Circle on Monument Avenue. And last night, a spontaneous group of protestors marched from Abner Clay Park in Jackson Ward to the J.E.B. Stuart Monument. There’s a lot of energy building in town, and I wonder if we’ll take advantage of it. Will Richmond take this opportunity and be a leading voice in the national conversation of racial and social justice? I don’t know, but here are some unsorted thoughts and opinions on what we’ll need to do so.
First, we need strong, visible, and vocal leadership. For now, the governor’s been doing the heavy lifting on this, but I hear that the mayor’s speech at the Reconciliation Statue last night was powerful (I look forward to seeing a video of it—shoot me a link if you find one!). I want to see our city’s leaders—elected, nonprofit, faith community, advocacy, media—move toward directing all of this chaotic energy into making lasting, meaningful change in Richmond. Which means...
Nothing from the last three days should deter the Mayor’s Monument Avenue Commission from their work. If anything, the Commission’s responsibility is now far weightier and its task that much more important. The events in Charlottesville this past weekend have reinforced the fact that Confederate monuments are powerful symbols of racism that white supremacists will literally kill for. There is no place for that in Richmond. I understand that there are political and (possible) legal barriers to taking the monuments down immediately—although other cities around the country are moving forward with removal just fine—but we need to allow the Monument Avenue Commission to discuss a full range of options. This necessarily includes removal. The mayor should immediately expand the scope of the Monument Avenue Commission’s charge to include removal.
Finally, the State and the City have lots of permitting processes and public assembly laws already on the books. Should bigots, racists, Nazis, or even the Sons of Confederate Veterans plan rallies in our City, those processes and laws should be enforced. Like, really, really enforced. The horde of people that descended on Charlottesville this past weekend didn’t show up to peaceably express unpopular opinions; they arrived with weapons and hurt, man-baby egos looking to use violence to terrorize and intimidate. Richmond must use the tools already available to it to prevent, hinder, delay, and constrain these types of dangerous, hateful displays.
I thought the @cvillenewscom twitter account summed it up perfectly: “THAT’s how to be ‘the capital of the resistance.’ You have to DO shit, and not just TALK shit.”
OK, now I’m going on vacation for real this time.