On an idyllic summer afternoon in the District on Sunday, Aug. 13, thousands took to the streets in the shadows of the White House to voice their concerns after armed white supremacists in Charlottesville took prejudice and violence to new heights just one day earlier — resulting in dozens of injuries and even death in a daylong melee captured on video that confirms the tenuous state of race relations in today’s Donald Trump-led America.
One local participant who also works as an organizer with the Stop Police Terror Project DC, said efforts to move the country backward, including the resurgence of the Ku Klux Klan and like-minded groups who support Nazi ideologies, will continue to be met with strident opposition.
“There’s been a movement growing in America for several years, especially since the murder of Mike Brown — a movement against white supremacy, racism and bigotry,” said Eugene Puryear who added that incidents in Charlottesville have exposed those hell bent on making the country even more divided.
Several others reacting to the white nationalists-fueled “Unite the Right” rally, held last Saturday allegedly to voice opposition to city officials’ decision to remove a statue of the South’s Civil War icon, Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee, said it’s time for all Americans to speak up.
“I’m surprised things have gotten this far and that so many people have remained silent,” said Hamna Arif, 24, an Atlanta resident visiting D.C. for a brief vacation. “Trump’s comments have yet to address the situation and the real crisis at hand.”
One Silver Spring resident agreed.
“If a Black man had been the driver of the car that plowed into that crowd of counter-protesters, he would not have been treated so gently by the police,” said 24-year-old Damon (last name withheld). “Trump refuses to call this what it is — a terrorist act that was intended to kill people. As for his press conference last weekend and on Monday, neither one had anything to do with what really happened. His comments were just stupid.”
Northwest D.C. resident Ryan LeBlanc, 28, describes the events in Charlottesville as “horrific.”
“It’s beyond belief that our president has refused to criticize white racists and call it what it really is — probably because he doesn’t want to offend those who support him the most. That’s the greatest tragedy,” LeBlanc said.
In a recently released Gallup poll, Donald Trump’s approval rate has hit an all-time low of 34 percent with 61 percent disapproving of the job he’s doing as the nation’s 45th president.
Since Saturday’s events, a surge of American leaders, including a nonpartisan collective of elected officials, and grassroots and civil rights activists — Black, white and brown — have continued to weigh in on the president’s comments, particularly his reluctance, if not his refusal, to denounce the actions mounted by white supremacists.
But some who support separatist notions, including former Ku Klux Klan leader David Duke, have publicly stated that they’ve become more emboldened in professing their opinions since first giving their support to then-presidential candidate Donald Trump, feeling empowered to remove their “hoods” and unleash their vitriol because of the views he espoused since first kicking off his presidential campaign.
Georgetown University professor and noted Black scholar, Dr. Michael Eric Dyson, said while appearing on MSNBC on Aug. 14, that the president’s silence serves as a means of “empowering white supremacists.”
“It looks like Trump’s yielded to coercion, bowing down and capitulating — something he promised he’d never do — to those from among his base of supporters,” Dyson said. “In response, we Americans must say we’ll have nothing to do with this kind of hatred in our rich democracy.”
“We’re seeing evidence of the relationship between members of the alt-right and the White House: Steve Bannon (former Breitbart editor), Stephen Miller (senior adviser); and Sebastian Gorka (intelligence analyst and deputy assistant). I agree with Marc Morial that all of them should be gotten rid of now.”
“Trump’s racist views have been evident and continuously amplified since he took the lead in the ‘birther movement’ lodged against our first African-American president. That in itself was well beyond rationality and troubling on many sides. It could be argued that racism exists at the core of the brain, breath and thinking of the chief executive of America,” Dyson said.
One equally vocal critic, veteran civil rights activist the Rev. Al Sharpton who will soon be leading a contingency of the country’s clergy here in D.C. on Aug. 28 to mark the 54th anniversary of Dr. King’s historic March on Washington, said while analyzing the president’s carefully crafted words about last Saturday’s violence, “Trump’s silence spoke volumes — more and more Americans are beginning to see his silence as a thunderous statement.”
Following Trump’s second press conference on Aug. 14, several Black leaders spoke adamantly about their discontent with both the president’s policies since he took office six months ago and his refusal to immediately discredit heightened actions of white supremacists.
Sherrilyn Ifill, president and director-counsel, NAACP Legal Defense Fund: “The president, like many members of Congress, has expressed beautiful words — words that mean very little given the kinds of positions and legislation that he and other Republicans have supported. White supremacists now feel comfortable enough to show their faces without shame to the world. In America’s past, we’ve seen presidents like Eisenhower, Truman, Kennedy and Johnson — leaders who were not civil rights proponents when elected — but who, when confronted with critical situations in the country, proved themselves to be bigger men, stepping up and leading by example. That’s what we’re still hoping to see from Donald Trump — if that’s at all possible.”
Marc Morial, president, National Urban League: “Americans will be fixated on contradictions of today. It took Donald Trump 45 minutes to criticize Ken Frazier (via Twitter), [the African-American CEO of Merck who resigned from the president’s manufacturing council on Monday over Trump’s initial failure to condemn white supremacists], but 45 hours to condemn white supremacists. Maybe Trump finally got his moral compass right but it seemed to be difficult for him to achieve the right moral equilibrium on something so apparently heinous.”
Attorney Benjamin L. Crump: “The Department of Justice has begun its own independent investigation of last weekend’s events. They must send the strongest of messages to all Americans and affirm that we cannot condone what transpired. It’s nothing short of domestic terrorism. And like a part of the body when infected by gangrene, it must be cut off.”
Rep. Maxine Waters (D-CA): “Those innocent men and women who voted for Trump will soon see him for who he really is. Why did it take him two days to denounce the violence perpetrated by white supremacists? He has simply yielded to a nonpartisan group of Congress saying what he’s been told he needs to say. These Klan members, Nazi supporters and white supremacists have put our entire country in danger and he has allowed this situation to develop and fester. Trump does not honor the office of president and, as I have been saying for some time, he should be impeached. Until then, he will continue to give free rein to his small contingency of haters.”
Trump has revised his words since his Saturday address, now referring to those associated with the Ku Klux Klan, neo-Nazis and white supremacists as “criminals and thugs.” But many Americans question the president’s sincerity, also noting that his criticism is “too little and too late.”
But Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe took little time last Saturday to say where he stood, first encouraging the citizens of the commonwealth and then turning his attention to the hundreds of white supremacists who had traveled to Charlottesville with these words: “Go home.”