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In aftermath of Charlottesville violence, local lawmakers, activists express rage and sorrow

UPDATED: Sun., Aug. 13, 2017, 7:58 a.m.

Charlottesville resident Elliot Harding lights a candle as he places flowers and a stuffed animal at a makeshift memorial for the victims after a car plowed into a crowd of people peacefully protesting a white nationalist rally earlier in the day in Charlottesville, Va., Saturday, Aug. 12, 2017. (Steve Helber / AP)
Charlottesville resident Elliot Harding lights a candle as he places flowers and a stuffed animal at a makeshift memorial for the victims after a car plowed into a crowd of people peacefully protesting a white nationalist rally earlier in the day in Charlottesville, Va., Saturday, Aug. 12, 2017. (Steve Helber / AP)

The greater part of a continent separates Virginia from the Inland Northwest, but even so, the aftershocks of Charlotteville’s violent clashes could be felt across the region Saturday.

“I’m hurting. My heart is hurting,” said Phillip Tyler, former president of the local chapter of the NAACP. “It’s hard to express in words the pain and deterioration that we see, the hate that appears, frankly, unchecked.”

Local legislators, activists and citizens responded with a mixture of shock, anger and outrage as 2,000 miles distant, the largest white nationalist rally in decades erupted into violence. Protesters and counterprotesters clashed with wooden poles, bottles and torches throughout the morning, until, in what seemed a culmination of the violence, a silver Dodge Challenger rammed a crowd of counterprotesters, killing one and hurting dozens more.

At a moment of national political polarization, local lawmakers were united in their condemnation of the violence and their rejection of white supremacy.

“Let’s unite in standing against white supremacy and bigoted violence,” wrote Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers in a message on Twitter Saturday. “It’s repulsive & has no place here.”

In a statement, Gov. Jay Inslee expressed similar outrage.

“No American can ignore the disgusting hate and violence we’ve seen in Charlottesville over the last two days,” he wrote. “Speaking out against this hate is not enough. Our actions as a nation in response to racist, nationalist bigotry will speak louder.”

“It’s painfully clear that the hatred and bigotry in #Charlottesville came from the side with white supremacists marching with Nazi flags,” he added.

Those words, or others like them, were repeated around the country, by Democrats and Republicans alike. Yet without deeper change, the moment of solidarity may be as brief as the events that inspired it, said Tyler, the former NAACP president.

“This nation can unite. We can stand up together for a greater cause,” he said. “But it shouldn’t take someone’s life in order to do that.”

For Rusty Nelson, president of the Spokane chapter of Veterans for Peace, the moment dredged up old memories of a time when the specter of white nationalism was a regular presence in Spokane.

“I’ve lived in the area since 1981, and when I arrived there was a lot of tension around the Aryan Nations group in northern Idaho,” he said. Still, he said, the community showed great resilience in organizing nonviolent protests. “There was a march when many people were anxious to go confront the Ku Kluxers, the Aryans. But mostly, people had the discipline to turn their back on the (white nationalist) marchers when they went through the streets.”

“This gets more and more difficult to do,” he said. “The polarization is getting worse.”


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