Charlottesville native reflects on tragedy

September 27, 2017 — by Harshini Ramaswamy

In February, the City Council of Charlottesville, Va., successfully passed a motion to remove the Robert E. Lee statue, a monument to a Confederate general, from the town. What had started as an attempt to right the wrongs of the past later culminated into a violent weekend in August, resulting in the death of a 32-year-old woman and injured protesters as white supremacists and anti-racists clashed in front of the the statue.

The protest not only shone a public spotlight on hatred and bigotry but also left a negative mark on the small college town.

For senior Evan O’Brien, who lived in Charlottesville from ages 6 to 11, the extensive media coverage has overshadowed his memory and connection to the town.

“I’m disappointed and disgusted [with the events]. A lot of the people I know and the family I have back there aren’t like that,” O’Brien said. “Ever since I was little, there’s been a lot of class warfare, so this wasn’t exactly a surprise, but I didn’t think it would get this bad.”

Despite being described by the Guardian as “the happiest town in America,” with residents owing it to the town’s “liberal values and sense of community,” Charlottesville has a long history of racial tension.

In addition to being a focal point for the resurgence of white nationalism, Charlottesville and University of Virginia have also been plagued by charges of police brutality. In 2015, Black honors student Martese Johnson was violently assaulted by white officers after supposedly being caught possessing a fake I.D.

In Charlottesville, Caucasians make up nearly 70 percent of the population while African Americans and other minorities are the rest, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. Black enrollment to the school also sits under 10 percent.

O’Brien believes protesters picked out the removal of this statue because it is an excellent opportunity to demonstrate to the people living in Charlottesville the dangers of being liberal in such a radically conservative environment,” O’Brien said.

In the aftermath of the protest, Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe responded with a statement strongly condemning the white supremacists and Neo-Nazis, yet in a later statement, he took a step back from the conflict by emphasizing that education should be prioritized over spending millions on removing or relocating Confederate monuments.

O’Brien has a different view of these statues.

“The statues are outdated pieces of misplaced and racist nationalism and deserve to be thrown into a dump,” O’Brien said. “I have a lot of ethnically diverse friends in Charlottesville, including African Americans, and they get very nervous about [events like Charlottesville]. Hopefully, it sorts itself out to make sure something like this doesn’t happen again.”

 

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