As a group came together to counter-protest the “Unite the Right” rallies – a gathering in Charlottesville, Virginia of white supremacists aiming to “take back America“– on Saturday, tragedy struck. 20-year-old James Alex Fields Jr. allegedly drove his Dodge Challenger into a crowd of people, killing Heather Heyer, a 32-year-old paralegal who fought for the rights of the disenfranchised, and injuring at least 19 more, including 20-year-old Natalie Romero. According to KHOU 11, Romero, a Houston native, texted her mom before she attended the protest.
Her mom cautioned her to be careful, but nothing could have prepared her for what happened. Fields Jr. reportedly accelerated as he drove into a crowd on a pedestrian mall. He then reversed and hit more people, the Washington Post reports. Footage of the attack has circulated online since.
Romero suffered multiple injuries and a small skull fracture. She’s currently hospitalized and unsure if she’ll attend the first day of school later this month. “[I have] a lot of back pain and neck pain,” she told KHOU 11. “Just a lot of bruises. I think when I fell, I bit my lip. And so my lip is really busted and my face looks pretty horrible right now.”
Natalie’s mother, Ericka Chaves, added that the 20-year-old is the first in family to attend college and doesn’t have health insurance. Ericka began a GoFundMe page to raise money for her daughter’s medical expenses.
As ProPublica notes, the police stood by for hours without doing anything as several confrontations took place. At about 10 a.m., white supremacists formed a line and rushed the counter-protesters – many of whom were older near a church parking lot. “Standing nearby, an assortment of Virginia State Police troopers and Charlottesville police wearing protective gear watched silently from behind an array of metal barricades – and did nothing,” A.C. Thompson writes.
For 20-year-old Deandre Harris – an aspiring hip-hop artist who moved to Charlottesville two years ago – police also didn’t interfere as a group beat him, despite the incident taking place next to a police department. His friends, who noticed him lying on the floor, came to his rescue. Harris, who has eight staples in his head, a broken wrist, and a chipped tooth, doesn’t know if he’d be alive today if it weren’t for his friends, according to The Root.
Jason Kessler, who organized the rally, tried to redirect blame onto the police. And though the police is also complicit, Kessler provided white supremacists, neo-Nazis, and Ku Klux Klan members with a space to express their hate. He tried to hold a press conference after the violent clashes took place, but was drowned out – and eventually chased out – by counter-protesters, according to CNN.
As is the often the case when a white person commits horrible atrocities, the word terrorism isn’t really being employed. President Donald Trump, for example, stated, “We condemn in the strongest possible terms this egregious display of hatred, bigotry, and violence on many sides, on many sides.” He never once called out the white supremacists responsible for the violence, and instead, he tried to find – as Jelani Cobb wrote in The New Yorker – “gray areas where there were none.”
What happened in Charlottesville has once again shown that there’s a lot of work to do to dismantle white supremacy. Online, many have called out white people for not condemning these actions and instead choosing to feel defensive. Others have also criticized people of color who choose to align themselves with these groups.
As Charlottesville and the rest of the country copes, donations are pouring in for the victims of these senseless acts and protests are planned for today.