Ahead of 2018, Charlottesville a wakeup call for mayors

The latest clashes between extremist groups and other activists in Charlottesville should be a wakeup call for US mayors. Once campaigns for the nation’s 2018 midterms power up, protests are even more likely.

What happened in Charlottesville might have been prevented instead of resulting in the death of Heather Heyer. What went wrong? 

So far we don’t know the circumstances that permitted a car to be anywhere near large groups of protesters. We really don’t know much about the driver who allegedly plowed into a group, killing a young woman. The suspect’s social media pages were taken down pronto—that’s something social media didn’t used to do. An individual who taught the man told media the suspect was a fan of Hitler. Media labeled the suspect as “alt-right”, although that term as originally used bears little resemblance to how media are using it today. We should learn more as the federal investigation proceeds.

The other two deaths resulted when a law enforcement helicopter crashed, killing H. Jay Cullen and Berke M. M. Bates. Both men were members of the State Police. [The Chicago Tribune]

I’ve lived long enough to know that protests are part and parcel of US culture, a right government cannot intrude on. Over the years, I’ve come to accept that the same limits on government control of speech that I admire also permit those I disagree with to speak. It’s hard to accept that, but it is necessary. Otherwise, we’ll end up like Europe where, if you say the wrong thing, you can be sent to prison or sued.

I followed pre-rally conversations on Twitter. It was obvious opposing political factions were heading to Charlottesville, and it was obvious there was potential for violence. My initial understanding of the original purpose of the protest is that it involved the removal of Confederate-era statues. How the affair went from that to full blown chaos is not known.

It strikes me the mayor was unprepared. For one thing, allowing opposing groups containing a number of radicals to be in close proximity to one another is a welcome mat for violence. For another, allowing vehicles in an era where people are protesting is a welcome mat for the same. I tried to determine if all the groups who protested, including the group founding the event, were doing so legally. Perhaps the mayor didn’t know about all the groups planning to come.

This is nothing new—we saw so much of this in the early 1970s as radicals destroyed campuses and property in various states to allegedly protest the Vietnam War. We know now much of this effort was funded by foreign interests.

I’ve often wondered how much foreign influence impacts us today, and no, I’m not talking about the politically driven Russia allegations.

Personally speaking, I believe our abandonment of individualism helps to feed violence. Increasingly media and politicians label people in knee-jerk fashion in an effort to vilify one group or another. Within our society there are people who cling to tribal notions, ethnic superiority, and cultural identities as the rest of us go about our business and view ourselves simply as Americans. People often turn to hate when they believe they are oppressed. This is universal and it has been the case throughout history. I don’t know how we remedy this other than to live our own lives by the Golden Rule, but I do know our country needs to be prepared for what may come.

For mayors, Charlottesville is a wakeup call. Hopefully mayors across the land will do better to anticipate potential outcomes than the officials in that Virginia city did. Start by prohibiting cars where protesters are gathered.

It saddens me to see the consequences of identity politics on this country. Despite thousands of years of advancement, the human race can still be manipulated to judge an individual by the color of his or her skin. You’d think we’d have learned by now how foolish that is, regardless of who is doing the judging.

(Commentary by Kay B. Day/Aug. 14, 2017)

About Kay Day

Kay B. Day is a freelance writer who has published in national and international magazines and websites. The author of 3 books, her work is anthologized in textbooks and collections. She has won awards for poetry, nonfiction and fiction. Day is a member of the American Society of Journalists and Authors and the Authors Guild.

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