My Thoughts on Charlottesville: Respecting All Americans

If you’ve been keeping up with the news, chances are you know about the Charlottesville protests on August 11 and 12. By this point, the march is over. But the aftermath is just beginning.

The facts

First, here’s a rundown of the facts:

In Charlottesville, Virginia, city administrators planned to remove a statue of Robert E. Lee, a famous Confederate general in the Civil War. To protest the removal, hundreds of people (labeled “white supremacists”) carrying torches gathered near the University of Virginia on August 11 and began to march. They chanted slogans like “blood and soil” and “white lives matter.”

On August 12, they returned. This time another group came to protest the white supremacist protest. Things escalated quickly. A car drove into the counter-protesters, killing a 32-year-old woman named Heather Heyer. The driver fled but was stopped by the police a short time later and arrested. The City of Charlottesville declared a state of emergency. In total, 35 people sustained injuries, and 19 visited the hospital.

President Trump was criticized for his delay in speaking out about the protest, and for not being specific and forceful enough in his response. He’s now made two statements.

My thoughts

Nonviolent Protest
Source: Wikimedia Commons

All Americans have the right to protest peacefully, and I feel very strongly about that. Peaceful protest is one of the tenets of American democracy. The white supremacist group absolutely had the right to march – but to do so peacefully. The counter protesters had the exact same right.

Obviously, driving your car into a group of protesters is not within that right. And when you’re carrying torches and chanting, people are going to assume you’re heading for trouble. It doesn’t sound like this was just a group of peaceful citizens wanting a voice in the community. And I want to make it very clear that I’m not supporting the protester’s actions in any way.

However (don’t hate me), I also don’t support removing that statue of General Robert E. Lee.

Here’s what I do support: erecting monuments that celebrate all kinds of Americans. To native Virginians, General Lee represents a moment in their cultural heritage and identity. Sure, the guy may not have been perfect. He reportedly believed slavery was evil. But he fought for Virginia in the Civil War out of loyalty to his home state. Did he do the wrong thing? Quite possibly.

But remember Thomas Jefferson? Our third U.S. President? The one to whom we’ve dedicated a giant, awe-inspiring monument on the Capitol Mall? He had an affair with his black slave. So are we going to tear down his monument?

No, and for a good reason: He wasn’t perfect, but he contributed to our country in meaningful ways, and he is a part of our cultural heritage. We must not forget our history.

What can we do?

Statue of Liberty - monument
Source: Public Domain Pictures

Let’s erect monuments to famous Virginians of color like Dred Scott, Booker T. Washington, Ella Fitzgerald, and John Brown. We don’t need to tear down existing monuments to do that, do we?

Of course, the situation may be more complicated than this. I’m not professing to know all the facts, even now. Supposedly, the statue has been a rallying point for racial violence, so maybe it needs to go. But I’d like to think there’s a way we can respect all Americans – even white males.