by: Makayla Scerbo
On August 12, 2017, many people rallied together in the streets of Charlottesville, Virginia to air their controversial views. The protests and subsequent riots unfolded after the state of Virginia announced its plans to remove a statue of the confederate general Robert E. Lee from a local park and rename all of its parks that had previously been dedicated to confederate leaders. The park where the statue stood, formerly known as Lee Park, is now referred to as Emancipation Park due to a recent spark around the South to remove Confederate symbols and names from public places.
White supremacists joined with the statue protesters, holding up signs with hateful slurs and sayings, and chanted various phrases against various ethnic groups while emphasizing white supremacy as they marched. The march turned violent when one of the neo-Nazis, Jason Kessler, walked up to the microphone to complain about violations of his First Amendment rights. Kessler’s followers subsequently attacked peaceful counter protesters who conducted a candlelight vigil at the time.
The violent protests turned deadly on August 14th when a man driving a silver Dodge Challenger plowed into a crowd of counter-protesters who were holding candles and singing. The crash killed a 32-year-old woman and injured 19 people. Soon after, police arrested 20-year-old James Alex Fields Jr. and charged him with second degree murder. Fifteen others were also injured that day due to different reasons, such as being trampled in the massive groups of people or being beaten by the neo-Nazis.
Protesters and critics later reacted strongly to President Donald Trump’s lack of condemnation of the supremacists. Trump spoke after a 48-hour silence, and was asked by reporters why it took him so long to say something about this controversy. His response was that the violence was due to the actions of people “on many sides.” Two days later, after a strong public backlash, Trump reversed his words in a speech to the nation and condemned the White Supremacists; however, shortly after that, he reversed his position yet again. Donald Trump’s third speech on the matter caused an uproar because of how its content matched his initial remarks. CNN reported Trump’s quote: “We condemn in the strongest possible terms this egregious display of hatred, bigotry and violence on many sides, on many sides.”
The Oracle decided to get students’ views about this national incident and the President’s reaction by asking their opinions about the riots and the way they were addressed. We were greeted with strong opinions about the Charlottesville incident and the President’s words.
The Oracle: What is your opinion about the riots that happened in Charlottesville? Do you feel the riots were justified?
Lelani Bell (11th grade): “The President took way too long to answer the problem and to apologize after he basically blamed both sides.”
Haley Jofre (12th grade): “I am disgusted by the whole thing and how this can still happen in 2017.”
Lauren Cohen (10th grade): “I don’t believe what the white supremacists believe. They do have the right of freedom of speech, but they don’t have the right to be violent. It should’ve been shut down.”
Leleni Haralson (12th grade): “I don’t care what the white supremacists think, they’re wrong. The world is crazy.”
Forrest Herrick (12th grade): “Its messed up. The white supremacists aren’t smart because [the state] is just moving the monument, not throwing it away.”
Jalen More (10th grade): “It makes me feel bad that this still is going on in 2017.”
Chris Parker (10th grade): “I hate white supremacists. They are hateful and they hate for no reason hateful.”
The Oracle also spoke at greater length two of these students about their own reactions to this event.
The Oracle: Why were the riots in Charlottesville so shocking?
Lelani Bell: “It’s scary that this racism still exists in our world today; it is problematic and too violent.”
Haley Jofre: “They took a turn for the worst. It was just disrespectful and made me sad that people from my country would do this.”
The Oracle: Do you think removing the Confederate statues was a good idea?
Lelani Bell: “The Confederate statues should be removed; they are a sign of hate.”
Haley Jofre: “The Confederate statues should be removed; they are a sign of hate.”
The Oracle: How did these events affect you personally?
Lelani Bell: “I am a black woman. It wasn’t scary for me until it turned violent. Then it wasn’t just disgusting anymore; it was scary.”
Haley Jofre: “I’m Jewish and to see the swastika was scary for me personally. It’s offensive.”
All of the students interviewed believed that the riots were either hateful or pointless, and would resolve nothing. Most of the students also felt that President Trump should have approached the whole situation in Charlottesville differently. The Charlottesville white supremacy riots have ended in the streets, but hateful words still ruminate throughout the country. The riots that took place have caused massive scars; whether the country can heal from these scars remains to be seen.
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