One year ago today the nation watched … some in horror, some in glee … as the “Unite the Right” rally took place in Charlottesville, Virginia. One year ago today … an event that took the life of a young paralegal, Heather Heyer, and left the nation reeling, finally understanding that we have not even begun to conquer racism. One year ago today, the events of the day would ultimately lead us to realize beyond a shadow of a doubt that the president is a white supremacist, that he is a bigot and a racist.Today, there is the potential for a repeat performance, this time in the nation’s capital, only because the city of Charlottesville denied a permit to Jason Kessler, the organizer of last year’s horrible event, for a repeat performance. It was only three days ago that the National Park approved a permit for up to 400 white supremacists to gather at Lafayette Square, directly across from the White House. Perhaps Donald Trump will go out and mingle with them, even take them some refreshments.
As many as 1,500 counter-protestors are also expected to show up. What could possibly go wrong? Perhaps nothing, as DC police are better prepared than Charlottesville police were a year ago. Mayor Muriel E. Bowser said, “We have people coming to our city for the sole purpose of spewing hate. It didn’t make sense last year, and it doesn’t make sense now. While we are opposed adamantly to what we are going to hear, we know what our responsibility is — to protect First Amendment events, to protect Washingtonians and to protect our city.” Let us hope they are able to do so.I really wanted to make this post a “look-how-far-we’ve-come-since-then” sort of post, pointing to lessons we have learned and actions that have been taken to stop such performances, to take violence out of the streets. But as I reflect and ponder, I realize that not only have we not moved forward, but that we, as a nation, have actually regressed since that fateful day, 12 August 2017. More than at any time since the 1960s, overt racism is a daily occurrence. Police are called on African-Americans for such things as parking on their own street, swimming in their community pool, barbecuing in the public park, and just doing their jobs, such as driving a bus or selling real estate.
Instead of looking at the events of Charlottesville and saying, “We must be better than this”, America listened to the words of Donald Trump a day or so after, when he claimed that some white supremacists and neo-Nazis who marched that day were ‘very fine people’, and blamed the violence on both the radicals and those engaged in a mostly peaceful counter-protest, such as Heather Heyer, who was murdered by a white supremacist who intentionally drove his car into a crowd. It was the legitimation, the validation that the radicals needed … it was the ‘green light’, the ‘go ahead’.
Under another administration, a more conscionable president, a more devoted Congress, it is likely that a commission would have been established, such as the Kerner Commission that was established by President Lyndon B. Johnson to investigate the causes of the 1967 race riots. Not a word or a thought of such a commission has been heard from Washington. Under a non-racist attorney general, racist incidents such as those I mentioned would be subject to scrutiny, guidelines established and communicated to police departments across the nation. People who called the police because a black person was parking her vehicle on her own street, or walking in her own neighborhood, would be subject to prosecution for calling in a false alarm, or ‘crying wolf’.
The United States has a long history of racism. As recently as 1971, school districts were still trying to find ways to circumvent the 1954 Supreme Court ruling of Brown v Board of Education. The Civil Rights Act of 1964 put an end to segregation … at least legally. Do you know the year of the last lynching in the U.S.? 1981 … just thirty-seven years ago. Do you know when the anti-lynching bill was passed by Congress? No? Me neither, because it hasn’t been passed yet! That’s right, folks … during the first half of the 20th century nearly 200 attempts to pass anti-lynching legislation failed to gain support from the Senate despite urging from seven sitting presidents. In 2005 the Senate took up a rare resolution expressing remorse for never approving a law against lynching, but still no law.
In June, the only three African-American Senators introduced a bipartisan bill Friday to make lynching a federal crime. Senators Kamala Harris, Cory Booker, and Tim Scott drafted the legislation which defines the crime as “the willful act of murder by a collection of people assembled with the intention of committing an act of violence upon any person.” It also classifies lynching as a hate crime that would warrant enhanced sentences. The odds of it passing? Slim to none, in my opinion. So far, other than Senator Tim Scott, no republicans are backing the bill. That speaks volumes, folks.
Violent racism, not to mention other forms of bigotry such as against the LGBT community and immigrants, are becoming not only more prevalent, but more overt, more in-your-face. There is no longer any attempt to wear the mask of political correctness, for Donald Trump has told the nation to just ‘tell it like it is’, and that it’s okay to hate, it’s okay to discriminate.
So no, I cannot say that we have come a long way since the tragedy of Charlottesville one year ago today. In fact, we have back-pedaled at a rate that should earn us naught but scorn from the rest of the world and from those of us in this nation who do not wish to return to the days of segregated schools and Jim Crow. If there is violence in Washington today, it will not surprise me. Two thumbs up to the city of Charlottesville for having the good sense to deny a permit to Jason Kessler and his band of thugs. Starting a riot where people are injured and killed is not … NOT … a part of First Amendment free speech rights. I can honestly say that I am ashamed of this nation, ashamed of our so-called leadership, and ashamed of the 40% of the people who support Donald Trump. Those who can still support the ‘man’ who has encouraged the overt violent racism we see today … I’m sorry, but they are not ‘good people’ in my book.