Meeting hate head-on

Charlottesville. It’s been one year. What have we learned? How far have we come? 

The Virginia town that was at the center of a white supremacy rally last year, which left 32-year-old activist Heather Heyer dead after a car mowed her down in the streets, was thrust into the limelight once again this past weekend. It was the one-year anniversary of the Unite the Right rally held to protest the planned removal of a statue of confederate leader Robert E. Lee from a park. It was a rally that turned deadly.

This year, a second Unite the Right rally was held  — this time in Washington, D.C. It again threatened the very real possibility of more violence, which thankfully did not come to fruition.

But the problem remains: Race relations in the U.S. are incredibly strained, and our president has done nothing to quell the them. In fact, during Trump’s time in office, he’s only inflamed the situation.

There are some pretty important issues involved, not the least of which is the First Amendment: the right to free speech. It’s imperative to our being Americans. But when the safety and wellbeing of our fellow man are put into jeopardy, should extremists be given a voice?

Yes, they should. That’s a difficult realization, because protesters at Sunday’s Unite the Right 2 rally demonstrated for beliefs contrary to the tenets of the United States. There were neo-Nazis, white supremacists, fascists, anti-Semites. 

But because we must protect the First Amendment, we must also allow hate groups to assemble and address the public. We don’t have to agree, but we must allow. 

That’s what makes living in the good ‘ole U.S.A. so unique — the rights of even those who we most ardently disagree with are protected by our Constitution. No one’s voice is silenced. 

That said, there were counter-protesters at this weekend’s rally as well. And they came out in droves. Compared to the 25 or so white supremacists who rallied next to the White House, hundreds of counter-protesters stood in solidarity against them.

As a member of the free press, we support everyone’s right to free speech. And since the neo-Nazis were out pedaling their rhetoric, we were therefore glad to see peaceful protesters out as well — especially since things didn’t escalate and turn violent. It must be noted that we condemn those behind the rally, who spoke of nothing we can in good conscience support. They spoke of hate, of fear, of persecution. The existence of such groups  — groups meant to tear down, to injure or to kill —  is a plight on this country and all who live here.

And why, we ask, hasn’t President Trump called such groups out for what they are? His inability to condemn neo-Nazis and white nationalists is unacceptable. His stance on racism is more than troubling — and it’s not doing this country any favors.

When people like James Alex Fields Jr., who stands accused of  killing Heather Heyer, want to rally in the name of white supremacy, there’s not a lot we can do. 

What we can do is continue the discussion, demand our leaders’ attention and work in solidarity with those promoting peace the world over. Michelle Obama’s words of wisdom hold true here as they do for so many occasions: “When they go low, we go high.” 

When they promote hate, we must promote peace.