Charlottesville mourns loss of life and proclaims, “This is not who we are”

Published 7:41 pm Thursday, August 17, 2017

This is not who we are.

This is not who we are.

Similar words have been used by leaders across the country following the horrifying events in Charlottesville last week.

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Those words were intended to embrace the nation, with its many diversities and constituencies.

But we say, as a part of this community: This is not who we are.

We are better than this.

We are smarter than this.

We are wiser than this.

And we certainly are more compassionate than this.

The violence that erupted here was imported. It was pushed upon us.

And despite Jason Kessler’s local ties, he does not speak for the majority of us. In order to fortify his abhorrent message, he had to invite outsiders of like ilk.

That, in turn, drew counter-protesters to our city, people who wished to show in equal or superior numbers that messages of hate will be opposed.

We do not reproach counter-protesters for seeking to promote that message and that image. It is a worthy one.

But the mixing of the two groups proved overwhelming.

And, tragically, it proved fatal.

The crash is being investigated as a homicide; the driver has been apprehended.

Numerous other people were hurt in the crash and during conflicts earlier in the day.

The alt-right rally as planned, along with the scheduled counter-protests, did not officially happen.

Instead, ralliers on both sides gathered in downtown Charlottesville well in advance of the designated start times for the protests. It didn’t take long for the two sides to clash, with fistfights breaking out, projectiles thrown and pepper spray used by both sides against each other.

Police then declared the gatherings to be illegal assemblies, and began dispersing the crowds.

Knots of people lingered downtown, however, and isolated skirmishes continued to flare up. It was during this period that a gray car was hurled like a weapon into the crowd at Fourth and Water streets.

Almost immediately, reports from witnesses indicated just how grim was the outcome. An eyewitness described CPR being given to a victim. Later, it was confirmed that one person died.

But more was to come. Before the afternoon was over, a helicopter crashed in Albemarle County, killing two people. The aircraft had been used in policing the protests in downtown Charlottesville.

No words can express the sorrow and shock in which we absorb these pieces of news. That someone should die, in our hometown, simply because she apparently came to express her viewpoint in an exercise of free speech is both a community and a personal horror.

Our deep sympathies go out to the family and friends of those who were killed, and to the families and friends of the injured. 

Today, this is who we are. We are a community in grief. We are a community in shock. And we are a community in righteous anger over unrighteous actions.

The story is not over, and the issues that brought us to this day will continue to simmer.

But at this moment, we echo the words of a heroine of the Civil War era, Julia Ward Howe:

“Disarm, disarm. The sword of murder is not the balance of justice. Blood does not wipe out dishonor, nor violence indicate possession.”

This voice from the past must speak to us today.

—The Daily Progress, Charlottesville, Virginia