By Mahak Paliwal
“They tried to kill my child to shut her up—well, guess what—you just magnified her,” says Heather Heyer’s mother Susan Bro. Certainly, the death of Heather Heyer accompanied by President Trump’s comment has raised a doubt on the prevalent justice system and equality. Ms Heyer died when 20-year-old, James Alex Fields, banged into the protestors who were demonstrating against the removal of Robert E. Lee statue in Charlottesville. He was charged with second-degree murder, three counts of malicious hurt accompanied by a hit-and-run.
Ms Heyer was an alumnus of William Monroe High School and vernacular of Greene country. By profession, she was a paralegal working for Miller Law Group PC in Virginia. She was a firm protester of injustice, racism and hate along with Bernie. A ‘Go Fund Me’ campaign has been set up by her well-wishers to facilitate a helping hand to her mother. Heyer’s memorial took place at Charlottesville’s Paramount Theater which was attended by the esteemed personalities and politicians like Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe along with 1000 other attendees. Narrating her daughter as heroic, principled and courageous, Ms Bro said, “I want this to spread, I don’t want this to die. This is just the beginning of Heather’s legacy.” Further, Elwood Shrader, Heyer’s grandfather said: “She showed her passion at an early age.” Jason Kessler, the producer of the ‘Unite the Right’ rally, blamed the authorities including law enforcement officials or the police authorities contending inability on their part to maintain law and order along with the safety of the participants.
Background of the protests
The genesis of the protest which leads to the tragedy can be traced back to 2015 Charleston church shooting wherein attempts were being made throughout the country for the removal of Confederate monuments from the public area and amending the names of the streets for emphasizing the glory of prominent leaders from the Confederacy. Subsequently, on August 11 and 12, a protest was organized for removal of the Robert E. Lee Statue in emancipation park as renamed by the council in 2016. Again, in the year 2017, Richard Spencer organized a rally staging opposition for removal of the statue of Lee. Protestors were seen holding lighted torch near the statue. On May 13, 2017, the same counter protestors performed candlelight march. On July 8, another rally was organized by the Ku Klux Klan. Although there was a loud gathering of counter-protestors, the Klan members left the park within 45 minutes.
A proposal of safe space was implemented by the Charlottesville Clergy jointly, which was used by about 600 people. Further, an application for holding an event at Emancipation Park presented by Jason Kessler was approved by the authorities including city council, city manager, police chief and mayor on the condition of moving the event to McIntire Park. Ahead of Jason Kessler’s event, the counter-protesters obtained a permit for gathering at McGuffey Park and Justice Park which is located nearly at a distance of less than quarter mile from the Emancipation Park. The event became precarious when on the evening of August 11, white nationalists inconsiderable number moved a march near the University of Virginia’s Campus shouting,“White lives matter”, “You will not replace us”, “Jews will not replace us” and the Nazi slogan of “Blood and Soil”. These slogans plainly reflect the belief of white people wherein they regard whites as superior. The tragedy occurred on August 12, when both the protestors and counter-protestors assembled at the Emancipation Park from their respective venues.
President Trump’s comment
Amidst, the tragedy President Donald Trump’s not-so-obvious comment wherein he blamed “many sides” gained attention and became an integral story. President refused to censure the white supremacists for their savage act of violence and hatred. The comment manifests Trump’s ideology of benevolence and support towards the white supremacists. He distinctly seems to favour an unseemly doctrine of counter-protesters which lead to the brutal murder of a 32-year-old woman who stood there to support humanity, equality and non-violence. On August 12, 2017, Trump said, “We all must be united and condemn all that hate stands for. There is no place for this kind of violence in America. Let’s come together as one!” Further, he added, “We condemn in the strongest possible terms this egregious display of hatred, bigotry and violence on many sides, on many sides.”
This comment of Trump not only attracted criticism from the public in general but also, from the members of Congress, both Democratic and Republican. It was firmly labelled as a component of Trump’s dog-whistle politics. After being condemned for his unfit comment on August 14, President Trump released a statement wherein he supported the protestors. He said racism is evil and criticized hate groups including white supremacists, K.K.K, Neo-Nazi etc., The criticism became further muscular on August 15, when President defended and restated the statement made by him on August 12 blaming “many sides”. On August 22, at the Phoenix, Arizona rally, he accused protestors of “trying to take away our culture.” Not only this, he also taunted the Chief of Merck Pharmaceuticals, who is black in colour, after he resigned from his post in protest of Trump’s comment. The executives of renowned companies like Intel and Under Armour also resigned showing their opposition.
In the poll conducted by the ABC news, 56% of the Americans disapproved of Trump’s comment while a mere 28% approved of his comment. Thereafter, the poll managed by a Marist Poll of American adults revealed the support of 52% Americans. Further, the same poll showed that 73% disbelieved his ideology. Amidst all, about 67% requested a legal investigation into the matter and labelled it as an act of domestic terrorism. Another poll carried out by CBS news depicted disapproval by 55% of the respondents. By mentioning this comment President Trump has enticed extensive criticism.
Justice! How far are we from equality?
The racism does not seem to be a new terror to Charlottesville. The traces of racism have always existed in Charlottesville, may it be by the way of cost of housing, unacceptable behavior of police authorities towards black community members or mistrust, deceptive and biased politics, improper health services, favouritism for white nationalist in education system etc. In a city which is home to about 70% whites and 19% black people, the state has barely taken any step strong enough to build up the black community and its economy. The rallies, marches, prayer vigils and family discussion accompanied with the political comments as made by President Donald Trump are evidence of existing variability or racial superiority. Such events not only bring to light the prevailing hatred and brutality but also, recognize the complicity.
History stands witness
As per the Southern Poverty Law Centre (SPLC), on August 13, 1955, Lamar Smith, the man who earned for blacks the Right to Vote in the elections, was shot dead by a white man. Similarly, in 1955 Emmett Louis Till, a teen on vacation was murdered by a white man for flirting with a white woman. In 1959, Mack Charles Parker, the 23-year black boy who was accused of raping a white woman was taken out of jail, beaten, shot dead and thrown into the Pearl River. Subsequently, on September 25, 1961, Herbert Lee who worked for liberty and registering the black voters along with Louis Allen, a black man who witnessed her murder, was killed by the sate. Thereafter in 1963, four girls named Addie Mae Collins, Denise McNair, Carole Robertson and Cynthia Wesley who were getting ready for rendering church services were killed as a result of bomb blast planted by the whites in the church which had long served as a centre for civil rights meetings. In the late 1960s Dr Martin Luther King Jr., who played an integral role in designing the Civil Rights Movement and won the Nobel Peace prize was assassinated while he was preparing for exposition in Memphis.
The dignity of the black community continues to stand threatened with current ideology and values. The nationals need to clean their hearts and relieve the world of this evil. The world needs to join the suffering and grief of the suffering community. The scar of racism constitutes an integral part of American history wherein the civil and the human rights of the black people have always been suppressed. White supremacists have always enjoyed economic privileges as opposed to the black community. This mindset of people not only hampers the growth of the nation but also, harms all of us. Swelling inequality has to lead to consistent social, economic, political and educational degradation. The racism has prevailed against all including Muslims, Jews, Catholic, Buddhist or Atheist. The response of the mayor and governor to Heyer’s tragedy is commendable. Accordingly, in order to widen the horizon of the views of white supremacists and defeat their illusion of race, they need to be brought across the considerable progress which has already been made in the field of racism. President Obama said, “Remember how far we’ve come.”
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