Delawareans stand with Charlottesville counter protestors, against white supremacy
Hundreds of Delawareans gathered near Wilmington’s Rockford Park Tower Sunday night to stand in solidarity with Charlottesville counter protesters, and against messages of racism and white supremacy.
First State resident Sallie Reissman held up a photo of the 32-year-old paralegal Heather Heyer who lost her life when a car drove into a crowd of counter protesters Saturday in Charlottesville.
“This is Heather. I promised I wouldn’t cry,” Reissman said. “Her last words on Facebook were: ‘If you’re not outraged, you’re not paying attention.’”
Reissman felt compelled to call people together in Wilmington’s Rockford Park after the weekend’s violent events. She said she was also encouraged by a group she’s part of called Indivisible.
“They were young, congressional aides who were in the White House through Obama and had watched the Tea Party really flip things with these small grassroots efforts,” Reissman said.
There was a large turnout Sunday: around 300 people stood in a large circle near the Rockford Park Tower holding signs denouncing racism and waving candles, while singing.
Many stepped up to the microphone including Senator Chris Coons, Wilmington Mayor Mike Purzycki and University of Virginia alums like Stephanie Hinson. Hinson and other UVA alums joined together in a university cheer, clinging to positive memories of their alma mater.
Hinson went to graduate school at UVA in 1979. She got married, gave birth to her daughter there and stayed there until the mid 80s.
“It was always a nice place,” Hinson said. “We can’t tell you how dismayed we are to see this happen to such a nice town like Charlottesville. And to a wonderful university like the University of Virginia – they don’t deserve this. I don’t understand why the so-called ‘alt-right’ has decided to make this ground zero.”
She and other relatives were completely shocked to hear about the rally that turned deadly. They say they’ve experienced more racism in Delaware than they did in Charlottesville.
Among others to step up to the microphone was Lutheran bishop for Delaware and Maryland William Gohl. He traveled to Charlottesville on Friday after an interfaith alliance group called for help.
Gohl says tensions were high on Friday, as white supremacists threatened prayer meetings. But he says it wasn’t until the next day – when groups of young white men in their 20s and 30s arrived – that the atmosphere became violent.
“You sort of expect to see 12 old men with a confederate flag,” Gohl said. “This was bone chillingly more frightening because it means that another generation has been infected and this cancer continues.”
It was the young age of this new generation of so-called “alt-right” participants that shocked Gohl the most. And Gohl wasn’t the only one disturbed by this.
“The fact is – it’s not something you’re born with, it’s something you’re taught,” said 22-year-old Delaware resident Coby Owens. He’s the Chief Executive Officer for Delaware’s Chapter of the Youth Caucus of America.
While he wasn’t in Charlottesville over the weekend, he was in touch with around 15 youth caucus members who were. Owens says for some, it was their first counter protest.
“I was on my phone until late in the night, just checking in with everyone, and also making sure their psyche was ok as well,” Owens said. “Being in an environment like that is something that no one’s actually ever prepared for.”
Owens says the youth caucus is thinking of ways to change the conversation about race – and put an end to the covert and overt racism that he and older generations have experienced first hand and many occasions in Delaware and elsewhere.
“It’s something my grandmother and my mom grew up with, and now it’s something I’m starting to experience. And I don’t want my kids in the future to experience something like this,” Owens said. “So if we can change the thinking around that now and start getting to some of the younger generations and cut it off, we have a bright future ahead.”
For First State resident Jordan Hines – who also spoke Sunday – that means getting to know others.
“Folks are so selective as to whom they want to speak with, whom they want to understand why people have so much anger against another,” Hines said. “And in order to combat anger: you need to ask, what’s going on in your heart, what’s going on in your mind, what’s going on in your world.”
Hines drove halfway to Hampton, Virginia over the weekend to pick up scared family members who feared violence there. He challenged those who showed up Sunday to get to know someone new – someone of a different mindset.
“God forbid - and I don’t foresee it happening in Delaware – if something like in Charlottesville can happen in Virginia, it can happen anywhere,” Hines said.