BY: Ryanne Persinger
North Philadelphia activist Malcolm Kenyatta feels a President Donald Trump rally and a neo-Nazi gathering are one in the same.
“Our president has not stood up to them,” Kenyatta said in reference to the white nationalist rally held this past weekend in Charlottesville, Va. where one woman was killed while protesting against the group. “Quite frankly, he has encouraged and inspired them.”
The series of events began Friday night on the campus of the University of Virginia in Charlottesville when white nationalists marched carrying torches. By Saturday morning Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe declared a state of emergency as tensions continued to grow among marchers and protesters. Heather Heyer was killed and many others were injured after a car plowed into the crowd while participating in the rally. A helicopter also linked to the rally, crashed killing two Virginia state troopers.
State Rep. Morgan Cephas (D-Phila.), a graduate of UVA said she was heartbroken and deeply concerned by the incident.
“My condolences go out to the families off the woman the two police officers who lost their lives, along with all of the wounded pedestrians who were injured fighting against racism and protecting Charlottesville citizens,” Cephas said in a statement. “Now is the time for our country to stand together and not worry if someone is Black, brown, white or yellow. We all should be worrying about just one color and that’s blue, the symbol of unity.”
On Sunday, Mayor Jim Kenney tweeted, “I denounce white supremacist rallies & violence in Virginia. This is not what America is supposed to be. We’re about love & unity, not hate.”
Trump made a statement Saturday that was criticized for not denouncing the hate groups by name. On Monday, he released the following statement: “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.”
Philadelphia NAACP President Minister Rodney Muhammad condemned the actions of the “pro-white” demonstration in Charlottesville. Additionally, a vigil was held in Center City on Sunday in response to what occurred in Virginia. A mix of races were in attendance, including Kenyatta.
“I’m happy to see so many of my white sisters and brothers stepping up,” Kenyatta said. “To address some of these challenges we don’t need a new political race or another rally, although those things are important. What we need is a mirror. We need to hold it up to ourselves and then to the entire country.”
Seventy-seven year old Bob Johnson of Charlotte, N.C., said when he saw Saturday’s events unravel on television, it mirrored the things he saw during the Civil Rights movement, minus the dogs and water hoses.
“This is nothing new, in terms of activity and hatred,” said Johnson, the general manager of the Charlotte Post, a weekly African American newspaper in Charlotte, who grew up with segregation. “But these things are taught. Most of the people who were participating [this past weekend] weren’t even born in the ‘50s or ‘60s, so they’ve had to learn this from somebody and they’ve taught them well too.”
Chad Lassiter, a professor of race relations and president of Black Men at Penn School of Social Work, Inc., said addressing situations like Charlottesville does not fall solely on groups such as the NAACP, Black Lives Matter or any other organizations.
“This fight has to be similar to the struggle of Black humanity that has always existed in America, from the abolitionist movement, to the establishment of historically Black colleges to the Civil Rights movement to know,” he said. “It’s not the people who are impacted by white supremacy who need to speak out solely. It’s also the Black organizations, and the white organizations, as well as white people.”
Lassiter said the events that unfolded on Saturday was white supremacy on public display.
“It’s also about white privilege, because we saw in Ferguson how tanks were readily available and that was a peaceful protest,” he said. “In [Charlottesville] they showed up with torches, sticks, weapons and we didn’t see the same type of military police forcing.
“We don’t need more Black players taking a knee, we need more white players taking a knee,” Lassiter added.
Kenyatta and Gregory Holston, the executive director of Philadelphians Organized to Witness, Empower and Rebuild (POWER) both feel that some Trump administrators, such as White House Chief Strategist Steve Bannon, should be removed. In response to the Charlottesville incident, POWER is planning a rally, “Unmasking White Supremacy…Philly Style” Wednesday beginning at 7 p.m. at Rodeph Shalom Synagogue, 615 N. Broad St.
“We are hopeful it sends a strong message to those institutions to change their practices and their ways,” Holston said. “So we can have a society where people are not judged by the color of their skin, but the content of their character as Martin Luther King said many years ago.”
As for Johnson, he takes solace in feeling that the number of people who have hatred, pales in comparison with the world’s total population.
“The sad part is, [the white nationalists] don’t understand, that you can’t destroy me without destroying yourself,” Johnson said. “It’s not going to end up the way you want it too.”