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‘Call to action’ in Marshall Park against racism, white supremacy

Candles are lit at Charlotte Uprising vigil

Candles are lit at Saturday evening's Charlotte Uprising vigil at Marshall Park remembering the Charlottesville, Virginia victims.
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Candles are lit at Saturday evening's Charlotte Uprising vigil at Marshall Park remembering the Charlottesville, Virginia victims.

Moved by last weekend’s violence in Charlottesville, Va., about 250 people gathered in Marshall Park Saturday night in uptown Charlotte for a vigil billed as a call to action to combat white supremacy.

The event, led by the group Charlotte Uprising, came a week after violence erupted at a white nationalist rally in Charlottesville, where a 32-year-old woman died after a car rammed into a group of counter-protesters, and two state police officers were killed in a helicopter crash.

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Kristen Litvak, right and her son, Magnus Litvak, 3, at the vigil. Jeff Siner jsiner@charlotteobserver.com

In Charlotte, Saturday’s event was designed as a place for people to mourn those killed and injured in Virginia, and create a space to think of ways to fight against what they see as white supremacy on a local level.

The vigil started around 8:20 p.m. and lasted about an hour. An organizer of Saturday’s vigil, Ash Williams, said at the start, “Get your candles out and your hearts ready.”

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A candlelight vigil Jeff Siner jsiner@charlotteobserver.com

Williams spoke out against white supremacist violence, and said Heather Heyer, who was killed in the Charlottesville violence, will never be forgotten. People paused to light candles as the sun set, and later held a moment of silence for Heyer.

Williams also called for all monuments that celebrate white supremacists and the Confederacy in North Carolina to come down. “Believe us when we say, ‘We will win,’  ” Williams said.

A white speaker named Jennifer focused on how white people can help fight white supremacy. “Learn how to follow,” she said.

One speaker led the crowd in chants that included, “We must love each other and support each other,” followed by, “We have nothing to lose but our chains.”

Signs at the rally included, “White silence is violence,” “White supremacy fuels police violence,” “Fascists bound to lose,” and “No more white fragility! Your privilege is showing!!!!”

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Kelly Bladl and Brittany Smith, both of Charlotte, hold signs at Saturday’s Charlotte Uprising vigil at Marshall Park. Jeff Siner jsiner@charlotteobserver.com

Earlier in the day, Charlotte-Mecklenburg police and the city of Charlotte debunked a rumor that the KKK was also staging a march in uptown.

It was the second vigil in uptown following the events in Charlottesville, culminating a week filled with nationwide rallies condemning racism, Naziism, the “Alt-right” and white supremacy.

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Signs at the vigil. Jeff Siner jsiner@charlotteobserver.com

Williams said before the event that some people were really disappointed with how last week’s vigil turned out because elected officials spoke, which some thought diverted attention from the events in Charlottesville.

“Tonight is a call to action,” Williams said. “Part of how we can move forward is disrupting the narrative that everyone gets along in Charlotte.”

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Vigil organizer Ash Williams Jeff Siner jsiner@charlotteobserver.com

Williams also said they want white people to remember white supremacy might not look like the Klan — “it might look like them.”

Chelsea and Scott Mellon sat at the top of Marshall Park, with a sign placed on Chelsea’s feet. “White Silence = Violence,” the sign read. The violence in Charlottesville made the couple hesitant to come to the vigil, but in keeping with the theme of the night, they said they recognized their role as white people in condemning white nationalism.

“If you’re complacent, you’re complicit,” Chelsea Mellon said.

A focus on statues

In addition to the rallies and vigils, the violence in Charlottesville sparked nationwide debates about the removal of Confederate monuments. Charlottesville’s plans to remove a statue of Robert E. Lee from a downtown park drew the attention of the white nationalists, white supremacists and others.

Several Confederate objects were vandalized throughout the country in the wake of Charlottesville, including in Cornelius as well as in Durham, where a group of protesters were arrested after they tore down a statue of a Confederate soldier.

Williams said charges should be dropped against the group that brought down the statue.

The events in Durham continued through Friday when hundreds of protestors held a counter-protest in anticipation of a rumored KKK march that ultimately never materialized.

On Saturday, Duke University removed a statue from its chapel of Robert E. Lee after the statue was vandalized earlier in the week.

LaVendrick Smith; 704-358-5101; @LaVendrickS

Jane Wester; 704-358-5128; @janewester

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