In the coming days, a dozen jurors will decide whether a group of extremists owe money ― potentially millions ― to some of the people they terrorized four years ago during a horrifically racist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia.
Integrity First for America (the nonprofit that funds the civil lawsuit along nine plaintiffs) has declared an intent to bankrupt the 22 defendants. This is a group of people and organizations who have similar hatred ideologies.
For some of the city’s progressive activists, though, the trial is more of a hum in the background.
Kathryn Laughon a University of Virginia nursing professor involved with anti-fascist and anti-racist community efforts, told HuffPost that it’s “just one part of the larger work that’s gone on” in recent years.
The “Unite the Right” rally in 2017 grabbed international headlines as photos and images from the event ― men shouting racist and antisemitic slogans while holding lit torches ― evoked memories of the Jim Crow South and Nazi-era Germany. James Alex Fields from Ohio drove his car through a crowd of protesters on the day that the rally was scheduled to occur. One victim was fatally injured, and others sustained painful injuries.
What it also did was draw residents’ attention toward their city’s history and structural problems that perpetuate inequality. It had a galvanizing effect for progressive causes, Laughon told HuffPost, noting that she considered herself “a run-of-the-mill liberal up to the summer of 2017.”
Charlottesville residents are pleased to report that in the last week, they have moved forward on plans to reform zoning lawsThat is what I have. origins in racism ― laws prioritizing single-family homes that were designed to perpetuate segregation and exclude people of color from living in certain areas. This city is working on a plan of change its gifted education programRacial disparities must be addressed. Charlottesville City Schools last year announced that it will no longer hire school resource officers as part of an overall push to eliminate police from schools. This was in response to concerns about how law enforcement treats non-whites.
Mutual aid groups were formed during the darkest days of the Coronavirus Pandemic. provided food to peopleLayoffs and the loss of personal protective equipment have a negative impact. to front-line workers.
“Institutions that were created in the organizing for 2017, relationships that were built, that brought us together to do that,” Laughon said.
The Confederate monument that inspired “United the Right” ― a statue of Robert E. Lee that some Charlottesville residents were petitioning to remove in 2017 ― was finally taken down last summer. The state has also seen other Confederate monuments being dismantled.
“We’ve had a lot of victories against white supremacy,” said Ben Doherty, a librarian at the University of Virginia’s law library who does community organizing.
The trial currently underway is a reminder of the “ongoing” effects of the summer of 2017, Doherty said.
The jury began their deliberations Friday. Next week, they will be continuing until they make their decision.
It took the plaintiffs three weeks for their lawyers to prepare their case. Three dozen witnesses were called, including experts as well as the plaintiffs. The injuries suffered by these people range from concussions and post-traumatic stress disorder to fractures that can lead to costly medical bills.
“I hope people are seeing how traumatic this was not only to the plaintiffs who are brave enough to put themselves out there in the trial, but for all the survivors of Aug. 11 and 12,” Doherty told HuffPost.
“For every defendant you’ve heard, I can name many other people who probably have nearly identical stories, and who have the same sequela ― the same medical costs, all these things ― who, for various reasons, are not part of the lawsuit,” Laughon said.
One such woman, Tadrint Washington, was sitting in a car with her sister waiting for the counterprotesters to clear the road when Fields’ car slammed into her rear bumperShe threw her forward. Molly Conger, Charlottesville resident and tireless worker tweeting updates on the “Unite the Right” trial, urged her nearly 120,000 Twitter followers to support Washington earlier this week; Washington says the injuries she endured triggered health problems that make it difficult for her to earn a living, according to her GoFundMe page.
Emily Gorcenski, a data scientist and activist who was repeatedly attacked by white supremacist defendants at the “Unite the Right” trial, emphasized the long view in a previous interview with HuffPost.
“Charlottesville is an ongoing story with ongoing struggles, and has been for 400 years and will be for another 400 years,” Gorcenski said. “If we really want to understand what this case is truly about, it is about the right for the people here to seek freedom to shape a community the way that fits them.”
Doherty echoed those sentiments: “Whatever the outcome might be, what people should take away from this, is just keep showing up.”