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Candlelight vigil draws hundreds to downtown

Black Lives Matter organizer David Irving Allen spoke to the crowd about understanding the past in order to change the future.  Photo courtesy Ivan Cutler Black Lives Matter organizer David Irving Allen spoke to the crowd about understanding the past in order to change the future. Photo courtesy Ivan Cutler

An estimated 1,000 people gathered at Governmental Plaza in Downtown Greensboro on Sunday evening for a candlelight vigil to remember the lives lost during violent protests that took place in Charlottesville, Virginia.

On Saturday, August 12, hundreds of White nationalists, neo-Nazis and Ku Klux Klan members held a rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, where they clashed violently with counter protestors. At the height of the mayhem, a gray Dodge Challenger plowed into demonstrators protesting against White nationalists, killing 32-year-old Heather Heyer and injuring 19 others. Reports state that another 14 people were treated for other injuries sustained in the protests.

The U.S. Department of Justice announced Saturday that it was opening a civil-rights investigation into the deadly vehicular incident.

Hours later, a police helicopter conducting surveillance over the rally crashed at the outskirts of town killing Virginia State troopers Berke M.M. Bates of Quinton, Va., who was the pilot, and H. Jay Cullen of Midlothian, Va., who was a passenger.

“Today we gather as a community and mourn the three lives lost. We came together as a community to say this kind of hatred is not okay and will not be tolerated. This is not who we are. We can and must be more than that,” said Jaime Brown, a leader with Indivisible Greensboro.

The vigil was organized by the grassroots organizations Indivisible Greensboro, Indivisible High Point, and R.I.S.E. Together Piedmont Triad. It was one of more than 100 marches and vigils that took place around the country on Sunday night.

Saturday’s Charlottesville rally came on the heels of a raucous night at The University of Virginia, where White nationalists marched through the campus carrying tiki torches and chanting, where counter protestors were also met with violence. The Unite the Right rally held in Virginia on Saturday was meant to protest the planned removal of a statue of Confederate General Robert E. Lee. The City of Charlottesville voted to remove the statue earlier this year, but it presently still stands in Emancipation Park, formerly known as Lee Park.

Matthew Casella and fellow activists Scott Trent and Becca Aubrey of the International Socialist Organization of Greensboro gave eyewitness accounts of the protests on Saturday. Casella was standing only a few feet from Heyer when she was hit by the car at the intersection of Fourth and Water streets.

“We were victims of a terrorist attack. This attack wounded my heart and mind,” said Casella.

Rev. Diane Dowgiert, Unitarian Universalist Church of Greensboro told the crowd it was time to change the course of history.

“We gather this evening at a crossroads. We must make a decision on the path to take. This journey has been long and has gone on for generations. It has led us to hatred and bigotry. We can choose a different path. It’s the path of saying no more to White supremacy. And it will call for us to dismantle all systems that uphold White supremacy,” said Dowgiert.

Speakers condemned President Donald Trump and his apathy towards the events in Charlottesville. On Saturday, Trump remained mostly silent only saying that the violence was initiated by “many sides,” rather than to single out White supremacists. People expressed outraged that the nation’s leader could stay silent on such a divisive issue while other Republican lawmakers, including Vice President Mike Pence delivered “no tolerance” messages, the president remained silent. While it took him merely an hour to tweet and ridicule CEO Ken Frazier of pharmaceutical giant, Merck, it took him two days to denounce the Klan.

“Now that Ken Frazier of Merck Pharma has resigned from President’s Manufacturing Council, he will have more time to LOWER RIPOFF DRUG PRICES,” Trump tweeted.

The tweet came after Frazier announced Monday morning that he was resigning from the Ameri-can Manufacturing Council in protest of Trump’s initial statements on Charlottesville. Frazier, the only African American on the council, was the first of three chief executives who quit the advisory panel on Monday, followed by Kevin Plank, the head of Under Armour, and Brian Krzanich, CEO of Intel.

Later on Monday, August 12, Trump read a statement from a teleprompter on Charlottesville at a hastily planned press conference at the White House, where he first discussed the state of the economy, then transitioned to addressing the weekend’s events.

Then on Tuesday, the president doubled down on his initial Saturday statement that “there is blame on both sides.”

The president proclaimed he had other executives in line to replace the CEOs that resigned. As of Wednesday, six corporate executives tendeered their resignations from the council and Trump reacted by disbanding the whole program.

Greensboro elected officials who spoke at the vigil condemned the violence and uplifted unity.

“I want to remind you that we must get back to honoring what is sacred, our children, our elderly, justice, and fairness. All those things that our country once considered important, I’m asking you to be one of those people to hold up what is sacred,” said at-large Greensboro City Council member and Mayor Pro Tem Yvonne Johnson.

Mayor Nancy Vaughan compared Greensboro to Charlottesville, pointing out its similarities of a growing city with a robust university population.

“When I looked at the TV yesterday and saw the horror unfold, I thought to myself: We are not this,” Vaughan said. “But the more I thought about it, the more I thought: Yes, we are. We are a community very similar to Charlottesville. And if it can happen there, it can happen anywhere. We have to stand strong against neo-Nazism, against White supremacy and hatred. We are a city that stands strong for our neighbors.”

But it has happened before in Greensboro.

Black Lives Matter organizers Irving David Allen and April Parker spoke to the crowd about understanding history in order to create systemic change moving forward.

“We are saddened by the events that happened in Charlottesville, but we’re not surprised. It echoes back to memories of 1979 here in Greensboro,” said Allen, referring to The Greensboro Massacre of 1979 at the Morningside Homes Housing Complex.

On November 3, 1979, members of the Communist Workers Party were gunned down by members of the Ku Klux Klan and American Nazi Party during a demonstration, killing five people. Reports from that time state that the Greensboro Police Department was aware the KKK had plans to stop the CWP rally, but failed to protect the protestors. An N.C. Historical Highway marker was erected in May 2015 to recognize the events of that day, where it sits at the intersection of McConnell Road and Willow Road in Greensboro.

“All voices need to be heard,” said Rev. Nelson Johnson, a survivor of the 1979 Greensboro mas-sacre. “When we bring it together is when we are powerful and a healing agent for each other. Let us believe together, work together, walk together and not grow weary.”

Two days after the candlelight vigil, the Greensboro City Council finally agreed to apologize, in a 7-1 vote to the community over the events of Nov. 3, 1979 at its council meeting on Tuesday night. Council was urged by speakers to issue the formal apology as it was recommended in 2006 by the Truth and Reconciliation process which researched and examined the facts of the 1979 incident. The sitting council refused to apologize then, but later in 2009, voted to issue a “statement of regret.”