By Charlene Muhammad CHARLENEM
James Alex Fields, Jr., an alleged White supremacist, has been charged with second-degree murder in the death of an anti-racist demonstrator and injuries to 19 others during a weekend “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville, Va.
Heather Heyer, 32, died at the scene. Some of the other victims were still in critical condition at press time. State troopers Jay Cullen and Burke Bates died in a helicopter crash while monitoring the protests.
Using a car as a weapon has become a common tactic among those described as Islamic terrorists, now the tactic appears to have been deployed by White Righters in America. The Justice Dept., has promised a full investigation as local authority pursue charges. Not many are confident, however, that there will be a proper federal response.
Mr. Field’s arrest is a step in the right direction, but it is not enough in a country plagued with racial division and violence, say activists, politicians, organizers, and news pundits. They feel more arrests are warranted due to extreme violence that ensued at hate rallies held by neo-Nazis, members of the Alt-Right, and the Ku Klux Klan.
Judge Robert Downer declared the 20-year-old indigent, and did not set bond during his first court appearance on Aug. 14. His next hearing is scheduled for Aug. 25.
The Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division, the Richmond FBI Field Office, and the U.S. Attorney’s Office have opened civil rights investigations into the car attack.
Rochelle Bilal, president of the Guardian Civic League, Inc., said police officers should have been there to keep everybody safe. But like many witnesses reported, she saw a lot of law violations coming from the neo-Nazi groups, such as the pepper spraying of counter-protestors, with no repercussions, she said. The Guardian Civic League, Inc., is the Philadelphia chapter of the National Black Police Association.
“Where were they? Did they want the people to fight? I was amazed by that. How did you allow people to come face-to-face? I’m trying to figure out were (police) there, too,” she told The Final Call.
The law enforcement veteran also could not understand how an area in which people were marching wasn’t blocked off from vehicles, at least for a 2-3 block radius.
A vehicle plowing into demonstrators, reverse, then still drive downtown before police caught him should never have happened, Ms. Bilal continued.
“I think whoever the chief of police is, there needs to be some emergency management training here, there needs to be some people trained in reference to protests and protocol, or they need to find a new chief of police, because this, somebody dropped the ball on this one,” Ms. Bilal concluded.
Daryle Lamont Jenkins, executive director of the anti-racist organization One People’s Project, told The Final Call he was driving to Charlottesville when things were starting to escalate.
“When I got there on Saturday, it was still relatively quiet, because when we went into town early morning, there were still some neo-Nazis representing Identity Europa, National Policy Institute, the KKK, the Proud Boys, American Vanguard, and Traditionalist Workers Party floating around the park at the time,” Mr. Jenkins stated.
“As the day went on, and it was basically a ‘who’s who’ of notable White supremacists, plus the younger folks that were coming in, and they were coming in armed,” he continued.
The hate groups had side arms and AR-15 rifles. “They were walking in military formations and shields and helmets and clubs, so they were there to fight, and we knew that! That’s why we also came strapped up,” he said.
Pepper spray was all over the place, clergy were getting thrown around, and once he got sprayed, he was done.
Mr. Jenkins said what happened in Charlottesville similarly occurred in York, Pennsylvania in 2002, except no one died when a Nazi plowed his car into anti-racists.
“By the time the nonsense happened, the state of emergency was declared, and I saw the ambulances going by,” Mr. Jenkins said.Many counter-demonstrators took the White supremacists for cops, because of their attire, Mr. Jenkins underscored.
“I kept telling them, those are the militia groups–the Oath Keepers, the type of people that were over at the Bundy Ranch–and I had to let people know … they cannot give you orders you are duty-bound to follow! I had to keep telling people that, because they thought they were the cops. Where were the cops? Who knows!”
Virginia’s Democratic Governor Terry McAuliffe, who declared a state of emergency for public safety on Aug. 12, placed blame on the neo-Nazis and White supremacists.
“Our message is plain and simple: Go home. You are not wanted in this great commonwealth. Shame on you,” Gov. McAuliffe said. “You pretend that you are patriots, but you are anything but a patriot.”
According to media reports, Gov. McAuliffe defended police, saying the White nationalist militia were better armed than officers.
Virginia State Police Chief Al Thomas said during an Aug. 14 press briefing police were not intimidated by the fire power of the Alt-Right, but it was prudent to make sure that officers were equipped to deal with the violence at hand.
He said officers were out in their everyday uniforms because they were hoping for a peaceful event.
Police were prepared for the rally at Emancipation Park, he said. However, on Friday, Aug.11, members of the Alt-Right groups abandoned plans and entered the park from different directions, causing police to change their plans, Chief Thomas explained.
Police also were spread thin, once the violence began, and it took probably an hour to gain control of the streets, he said.
“We regret this tragic day. We regret that we had a tragic outcome, and we lost lives,” Chief Thomas, who is Black, said.
“We condemn in the strongest possible terms this egregious display of hatred, bigotry and violence on many sides, on many sides. It’s been going on for a long time in our country. Not Donald Trump, not Barack Obama, this has been going on for a long, long time. It has no place in America,” said President Donald Trump, in an initial statement Aug. 12.
After scathing criticism for failing to label the incident domestic terrorism, and call out the White supremacists, he stated Aug. 14, “Racism is evil, and those who cause violence in its name are criminals and thugs, including the KKK, neo-Nazis, White supremacists and other hate groups that are repugnant to everything we hold dear as Americans.”
Dr. Ava Muhammad, attorney and student national spokesperson for the Honorable Minister Louis Farrakhan and the Nation of Islam, said the statement was weak, because those groups are part of his base. And they have more sympathizers throughout White America than anyone would ever acknowledge, she said.
“What we’re witnessing is what the Honorable Elijah Muhammad and Minister Farrakhan have warned us, this is the culmination of the incapacity of White people to tolerate the presence of Black people in America in any capacity other than as slaves and servants. That’s what this is,” she stated.
“That’s not going to happen,” said Min. Farrakhan in a 2016 year-end interview with The Final Call.
“Our people are not going back to that; they’re not going to accept that. So, the more we awaken, the more we challenge the powers that have kept us down, the more we challenge those powers it brings great pain and suffering to us,” Min. Farrakhan stated. To those who are appalled, and question why neo-Nazis would come out with weapons, kill people, drive a car into a crowd and take somebody’s life over the removal of a statue of a Confederate leader, Dr. Muhammad said, “They would do it because it represents an attack on the very core of their belief system.”
“I think that anyone who says this incident is surprising is lying to themselves or has had their eyes closed for the past at least five years,” said Martese Johnson, University of Virginia alumnus.
As a third-year honor student there, he survived a confrontation by Virginia Alcohol Beverage Control officers on March 18, 2015. On October 12, 2015, he filed a federal $3 million lawsuit for false arrest and excessive force against the agency and three of its agents.
The former brand strategist is back home in Chicago and works as an educator, but his heart is also in Charlottesville, where he feels their safety was violated both physically and mentally. Contrary to popular belief, many had already begun moving into their dorms when the White supremacists marched onto campus.
He was appalled to learn the Alt- Righters showed up, unannounced, on the campus, where they weren’t given approval.
“When you look at the fact that in 2014 on this very same weekend, Michael Brown was murdered and the start of this whole Black Lives Matter movement began, you’d literally have to have your eyes closed for the past three years to think that racism in America wasn’t an issue,” Mr. Johnson said.
Mr. Johnson doesn’t feel the age dynamic is such a huge thing, because the truth of the matter is there are recent university graduates who are participating with the Alt-Right, and protesting alongside 50- and 60-year-old men, he said.
The calamity in Charlottesville drew the attention of Americans, some were shocked.
University of Virginia youth, huddled with their heads down, holding a banner decrying racism though surrounded by tiki-torch-wielding Nazis, stood their ground as long as possible Aug.11 until the White supremacists started attacking them, anti-racist activist and author Tim Wise observed. Problems escalated when the neo-Nazis wouldn’t let them leave, he said.
“You can’t just hold people against their will, so Richard Spencer and every single one of those men and maybe a handful of White women … ought to be arrested and charged. They won’t be though, and the reason they won’t be is because the Charlottesville police, evidently, were there to protect the Nazis and not to protect the anti-racists,” argued Mr. Wise.
Proof of that was after Mr. Fields allegedly mowed protestors down with his car, witnesses alleged there were police who watched the whole thing, watched him back up and didn’t do anything.
“We all know what happens if a Black man takes a car and plows into a group of the White supremacists, and there are cops watching, I have a feeling there will be some guns unholstered,” Mr. Wise told The Final Call.
Meanwhile, rallies and candlelight vigils under the hashtags #FightWhiteSupremacy and #CvilleStrong erupted across the country in cities including Los Angeles, Atlanta, Chicago and Washington, D.C., as news of the violence spread.
In Seattle, anti-racist demonstrators and police clashed, as the protestors attempted to reach a rally organized by the right-wing group Patriot Prayer some two blocks away, according to media reports. That rally was planned before the “Unite the Right” rally in Virginia, according to the Seattle Times.
“Maybe the most optimistic reading is that this is the last gasp of a group that feels that they’re losing everything they’ve ever had, and in a way, they are. White men are losing hegemonic dominance. We’re not losing opportunity. We’re not losing our rights. We’re not oppressed,” Mr. Wise told The Final Call. He is Caucasian.
He added, “If this is what White folks do, when we are still less as likely to be unemployed as Black folks, and still have 12 times as much wealth on average as Black folks, think of what we would do if we were actually oppressed … if we really were being violated, because this is what we do when we we’re still on top. This is what we do when we’re still in power!”
(Nisa Islam Muhammad contributed to this report.)