Hundreds gather to ‘stand against hate’ uptown Sunday night

People gather in Marshall Park on Sunday for a Vigil for Charlottesville.
People gather in Marshall Park on Sunday for a Vigil for Charlottesville. jwester@charlotteobserver.com

Several hundred people chanted “Love trumps hate” and “Are we divided? No” as they gathered in uptown’s Marshall Park on Sunday night to stand for diversity, peace and love in response to violent protests in Charlottesville, Va.

The local “Vigil for Charlottesville” was one of multiple rallies in cities across the state – including Durham, Chapel Hill and Fayetteville – and the nation.

Organizer Scott Huffman of Indivisible Charlotte said the vigil’s purpose was “to show how the alt-right, Nazism, white supremacy are not who we are.” Some attendees carried American flags or wore patriotic clothing.

One woman, Rachel Campbell of Charlotte, said she’s old enough to remember when Hitler came to power.

WARNING: This video contains graphic content. A car plowed into a crowd of protesters killing one as clashes between protesters and counter-protesters broke out in Charlottesville, Va.

“Study history, go back and see how easy it was. People thought he was crazy, oh, he won’t come to power – well guess what, he did, and we all know what happened about that,” she said.

Topher Gee, a high school biology teacher from Waxhaw, said he came to the vigil to challenge what happened in Charlottesville and speak out against white supremacy.

“I think it’s important to realize that a small number of people don’t represent everybody, but if a larger group of people is quiet, then it’ll be that small group of people that people respond to and listen to,” he said.

Gee said he hoped the assembly at Marshall Park could serve as a “seed” for future organizing.

Tension in Charlottesville began Friday night, when torch-bearing white supremacists marched to oppose the removal of a statue of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee.

Protests turned violent Saturday morning, with fights breaking out between the white supremacists and counter-protesters. Gov. Terry McAuliffe declared a state of emergency before noon.

Hours later, one person was killed and 19 were injured when a car plowed into counter-protesters in a pedestrian mall. The woman killed has been identified as Heather Heyer, 32, according to local Charlottesville newspaper The Daily Progress.

James Alex Fields Jr., a 20-year-old from Maumee, Ohio, has been arrested and charged with second-degree murder, malicious wounding and failure to stop in an accident that resulted in death, CNN reported.

Also on Saturday afternoon, a Virginia State Police helicopter crashed near a golf course, several miles from the center of the protests. State officials said the helicopter had been involved in monitoring the protests, the Associated Press reported. The Daily Progress reported that two troopers were killed: H. Jay Cullen and Berke M.M. Bates.

Charlotte Mayor Jennifer Roberts tweeted her support for Charlottesville and its mayor Saturday night, saying the city of Charlotte stands “against these unimaginable acts of hate and violence.”

Rallies elsewhere

Protesters decrying hatred and racism gathered around the country on Sunday, from a march to President Donald Trump’s home in New York to candlelight vigils in several cities. In Seattle, police made arrests and confiscated weapons as Trump supporters and counter-protesters converged downtown.

“People need to wake up,” said Carl Dix, a leader of the Refuse Fascism group organizing demonstrations in New York, San Francisco and other cities. “This can’t be allowed to fester and to grow because we’ve seen what happened in the past when that was allowed.”

Community members, activists and friends gather and remember Heather Heyer at a vigil in Charlottesville after she was killed by a car that plowed through a counter protest on Saturday. Clashes between protesters and counterprotesters broke out af

“It has to be confronted,” said Dix, a New Yorker who spoke by phone from Charlottesville Sunday afternoon. He had gone there to witness the white nationalist rally.

In Seattle, a rally previously planned for Sunday by the conservative pro-Trump group known as Patriot Prayer drew hundreds of counter-protesters.

A barricade separated the two groups as police officers stood by dressed in black riot gear. At one intersection, police ordered crowds to disperse.

The Seattle Times reported that officers used pepper spray on some marchers. It wasn’t immediately clear how many people had been arrested.

In Denver, several hundred demonstrators gathered beneath a statue of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. in City Park and marched about two miles to the state Capitol. In Fort Collins, Colo., marchers chanted “Everyone is welcome here. No hate, no fear.” One demonstrator’s sign said, “Make racists ashamed again.”

In New York, protesters marched from several locations in Manhattan to Trump Tower, demanding the president denounce white nationalist groups involved in the violent confrontations in Charlottesville. One sign read: “Call out evil.”

Helen Rubenstein, 62, was among hundreds of people who marched through downtown Los Angeles. She said her parents were Holocaust survivors, and she’s worried that extremist views are becoming normal under Trump’s presidency.

One person has been confirmed dead and 19 people injured after a car plowed into a crowd marching peacefully in downtown Charlottesville, Va.

“I blame Donald Trump 100 percent because he emboldened all these people to incite hate, and they are now promoting violence and killing,” Rubenstein said.

The Associated Press contributed.

Jane Wester: 704-358-5128, @janewester