BY CASH MICHAELS OF THE WILMINGTON JOURNAL
The searing images of Neo-Nazis and White supremacists battling on the streets of Charlottesville, Va. with counter protesters last Saturday, culminating in the tragic murder of a young White woman when a car driven by an alleged Nazi sympathizer slammed into an unsuspecting crowd, are still in the minds and hearts of most African-Americans almost a week later.
“The hate and violence we’ve witnessed in Virginia is reprehensible and has no place in our society,” said Congresswoman Alma Adams (D-12-NC). “As a nation, we are better than this. It’s time we come together to stand up and boldly stamp out bigotry and hate.”
Rep. Adams was joined in her expression of concern about the racist violence in Charlottesville by some of her North Carolina Republican colleagues, Representatives Virginia Foxx, Richard Hudson, Patrick McHenry, and Sen. Thom Tillis.
“The hate, bigotry and violence on display in Charlottesville is despicable and represents the complete opposite of what America stands for,” Sen Tillis tweeted Sunday.
But some Black religious and social justice leaders, like Bishop William Barber, President of the NC NAACP, say statements of racist outrage from Republican leaders about Charlottesville ring hollow when the policies of these same NCGOP congress people against the interests of African-Americans are taken into account.
“To say you are against White supremacy without standing up against the policies that embolden White supremacists reeks of a terrible ignorance or deliberate hypocrisy,” Bishop Barber said in an interview.
“[Republican leaders] and others oppose the White supremacy in Charlottesville. OK, we all do, but here is the test. Will they call for [White House presidential adviser Stephen] Bannon and alt-right policies to be removed from their agenda? Will they fully reinstate the Voting Rights Act to stop racist voter suppression and gerrymandering? Will they acknowledge the racist voter suppression in 2016 and join [the US Supreme Court] to condemn racist gerrymandering? Will they stop the racist attacks on immigrants? Will they challenge and stop US Attorney General Jeff Sessions from ending affirmative action? Will they increase and call for support of federal investigation of unarmed Blacks killed by police? Will they repent from how silent they were when Trump used birtherism [against Pres. Obama] to rally White supremacists for his campaign?”
Wilmington native, Rev. Kojo Nantambu says the racial violence the world saw in Charlottesville on Saturday was something the country has been slowly moving towards ever since Dr. King’s death and could certainly happen here in North Carolina. White militia groups have been stocking up on weapons, preparing for a race war, especially after the election of the first Black President, Barack Obama.
The only reason they hadn’t emerged until now, Rev. Nantambu contends, is because the Obama Justice Dept. had clamped down on them during his eight years in office, but, now that Donald Trump is President, the White supremacist movement is beginning to rebound.
What Nantambu rails against most is the difference in how Black demonstrators and White protesters are traditionally treated by police. As seen on Saturday in Charlottesville, where law enforcement did little to stop gun-wielding White neo-Nazis from parading their weapons in public (Virginia is an open carry state, but since most of those “Unite the Right” demonstrators were from out of state, if they brandished a gun, they were breaking federal law for illegally transporting firearms across state lines). The neo-Nazis were able to push and shove police officers without incident, a stark difference from Ferguson, Mo. three years earlier where police confronted Black demonstrators with tanks and high-powered weapons.
In Charlottesville Friday night, White supremacists even threatened a Black church where ministers and counter protesters were rallying in peace. Again, police did nothing to protect the churchgoers.
“So yes, this is going to get worse, even here in Wilmington,” Rev. Nantambu said.
Rev. Nelson Johnson of the Beloved Community Center of Greensboro, has indeed seen Neo-Nazi and KKK violence before, right here in North Carolina.
On Nov. 3, 1979, five protesters in an anti-Ku Klux Klan march and rally were fatally shot by KKK and neo-Nazis. Rev. Johnson was the leader of that rally, and was arrested by police, who curiously were nowhere to be found once the shooting occurred. It was later determined that the White supremacists went to rally with the soul intention to kill, and yet, after two trials, none of them were ever convicted.
Now, 38 years later, Rev. Johnson looked back, knowing full well, that the “atmosphere” is ripe, for more
racist violence like was seen in Charlottesville and Greensboro.
“Everything that happened in Charlottesville is relevant, and North Carolina should be paying attention to all of it,” he said in a phone interview Sunday. Johnson went on to say that there are “political and economic forces that have been out of kilter” for many years, resulting in both Whites and Blacks to suffer accordingly, but, while there are many Whites who have struggled and are struggling economically, the very group that powered Donald Trump’s 2016 electoral victory, there is little question that African-Americans have suffered more, and continue to do so.
Rev. Johnson believes that both groups are being manipulated to turn against each other by politicians and the wealthy, with poor Whites being made to believe that African-Americans are to blame for their economic struggles.
“The fact that we are manipulated against each other is rooted in White supremacy itself,” Johnson maintains, adding that the solution lies in “raising people’s moral and ethical understanding” about how they are being exploited by the institutional “undergirding economic forces.”
Rev. Johnson noted that, beyond the documented fact that White supremacists went to both Charlottesville and Greensboro with violent intentions, another similarity was how public officials in Greensboro and President Trump, after Charlottesville, all tried to equivocate that everyone involved was responsible for the fatal outcomes.
Veteran civil rights leader, Rev. John Mendez, Pastor of Emmanuel Baptist Church in Winston-Salem, agrees with Bishop Barber that denouncing extremist racists is easy for Republican lawmakers, but taking stock of the cultural and institutional racism that laces their public policy when it comes to voter suppression, redistricting, LGBTQ rights or helping poor communities of color achieve equal opportunity, is something they’re not willing to acknowledge.
“A lot of people will jump on [what happened Saturday] because they think that’s what racism is… extremism, the Ku Klux Klan, White nationalists, Neo-Nazis, etc., but they reject or deny everyday racism that goes on in subtle ways in public policy.”
Rev. Mendez agrees that it is not a stretch to conceive of the same events in Charlottesville happening here. The election of President. Donald Trump to office has exacerbated growing racial and political divisions that can only fuel even more confrontations if strong moral leadership does not rise to the occasion.
“It’s a national atmosphere now,’ he said. “What happened Saturday was a strategic run, a test …to see if [White racist violence] could fly.”
Rev. Mendez added that, unlike Ferguson, Missouri, where local police “attacked” protesters after the police shooting of Michael Brown, police in Charlottesville were noticeably restrained against the neo-Nazis and other White supremacists.
Religious and social justice leaders say in light of Charlottesville _ and what they say is Pres. Trump’s lack of moral leadership _ there must be a coming together of people from all corners to help save this nation.
According to the Southern Poverty Law Center, which tracks White supremacist activity across the nation, there are numerous Klan and neo-Nazi groups headquartered in North Carolina, particularly in the western part of the State.
On Monday evening in Durham, anti-racist demonstrators pulled down a confederate statue that previously stood in front of the old Durham County Courthouse, and took turns stomping it. Gov. Roy Cooper tweeted in response, saying, “the racism and deadly violence in Charlottesville is unacceptable, but there is a better way to remove these monuments.”