Life in Charlottesville, VA on Friday, August 11, 2017 was normal. People were working but became wary of what might happen the following day of the Unite the Right rally. As part of the Charlottesville community, we felt safe and thought the rally was going to be as peaceful as the others that were hosted in Emancipation Park earlier that summer.
The deadly and devastating weekend came Friday afternoon.
It all started on Friday afternoon with white supremacists carrying guns that concerned customers in the Charlottesville Walmart parking lot. I was a mile away at Fashion Square mall with my neighbors as we heard police cars racing up Highway 29. This foreshadowed what would follow on the University of Virginia's campus later that night. Along with my neighbors, we immediately went home and stayed there for the rest of the weekend.
Once the people of Charlottesville were home after a hard-working Friday and the streets were empty, word went around town there would be a rally of the far-right somewhere that night. The only details missing was where and when. Not even the news stations knew what to expect that night. We worried what would follow the next day after the torch-lit rally where people chanted antisemitic slogans. People were really afraid to leave their homes. The hashtags #GetOffOurLawn and #LoveCharlottesville started trending on Twitter.
On Saturday, the official rally began with people walking, yelling, and screaming at other in the streets that bordered Emancipation Park. It was a scene splashed across every television in the country and an example of the racism that persists in the United States. It was not about the Robert E. Lee statue that towers and stands tall over its own city block, but simply the racial divisions that exist in Charlottesville and on the far right. The statue was used as an excuse to spread and project hatred onto not only people of color, but anyone who isn't white or a man. This wasn't just people fighting each other on a funny YouTube video but was instead violence between groups publicized for all to see.
It's embarrassing and sad to tell people I'm from Charlottesville, also known as the place where the white supremacist rally happened. People are familiar with Charlottesville because it's associated with the label of white supremacy.
Nobody could have known that day would be the death of Heather Heyer, who sacrificed her life standing up to racist ideologies. Her memorial on 4th Street, where she died, is always decorated with chalk, signs, or flowers. To me, it's a reminder of how close terrorism is, especially white supremacy. Whether it is your neighbor, family member, or someone from school, white supremacy is always closer than you think it is.
On Sunday, August 13, 2017, Charlottesville awoke to a clear blue sky. It was as if the town had been abandoned with no cars or humans in sight. That weekend will always be remembered as two days of terrorism and white supremacy that sent shockwaves around the nation and will forever have a lasting effect on Charlottesville's culture.
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