It has been a few weeks since the events of August 12 in Charlottesville, Virginia, left us all bewildered and dismayed. I have struggled to understand the emotions I experienced that day and since. I have struggled to digest what I saw and heard, as the cacophony of voices in response grows louder, each defining this moment in their preferred terms. I have struggled to confront the nuance of an event that has been absorbed into a million different pet issues and reported from all sorts of political angles.
All this makes me sad. Charlottesville is our adopted hometown. I watched that day unfold, at first with a mixture of curiosity and disappointment, eventually with a sense of shock, fear, and anger. And now I am sad. Sad for the lives lost; sad for the damage done. Sad that this vibrant small city has become a pin on the map of partisan division. Sad that, on one beautiful day in late summer, there were enough purposeless, careless, thoughtless people to fill this place with hate.
There is no question that our president, whose job in the wake of a national crisis is to unite the people and elevate the public discourse, did us all a grave and lasting disservice. But more immediately, we were failed by all those who arrived in Charlottesville that morning looking to pick a fight. My home is not a battlefield, and no one has the right to make it so. This has not always been true; our mothers and fathers spilled blood in these streets as we fought to establish, sustain, and improve our nation. We must cherish our hard-won rights, but we must also cherish the rights of our opponents. We must not suffer indignities lying down; we must engage in public assembly and expression; but we must also respect the humanity of those with whom we viciously disagree, and never stoop to threaten their life or liberty.
Last week, the city of Charlottesville covered the statue of Robert E. Lee in Emancipation (formerly Lee) Park. Over the coming weeks, months, and years, statues of Confederates like Lee will be removed from public positions of distinction and relocated to historically appropriate venues–to battlefields, graveyards, and museums. It is necessary for us to keep a record of the atrocities committed in our name, just as it is necessary for us to publicly acknowledge their profound and lasting harm. As a nation, we live with the horror of that time when one man enslaved another, when one brother fought his own. If we no longer feel responsible for our history, then we risk reliving the sins of the past.
We dedicate this post to Heather Heyer, State Trooper Berke Bates, and Lieutenant Jay Cullen, in honor of our shared city and home.