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After Charlottesville, push for real reform

Jesse Jackson | Trice Edney Wire | 8/31/2017, midnight

Racism, exposed once more in the terror visited on Charlottesville, Va., still scars America. Hundreds of neo-Nazis, White supremacists, klansmen and other fervid racists gathered—some armed with assault rifles, and wearing camouflage. They marched with lit torches, yelling Nazi slogans, looking for trouble. They provoked violence, terrorized a city, took the life of Heather Heyer and injured many more. In the reaction to those horrors, character is revealed.

For Heather Heyer, the neo-Nazi assault revealed her passion for justice. She died standing for what she believed in, and her sacrifice helps to redeem an America that is far better than the haters.

She joined a peaceful demonstration against the neo-Nazis, standing with African Americans and people of conscience unwilling to be intimidated by the mob. She was crossing an intersection when a 20-year-old man plowed his car into the peaceful demonstrators and took her life, injuring 19 others. She now joins the blessed martyrs of America's long struggle for equal rights. She stands with other angels who sacrificed their lives: Viola Liuzzo in Selma, Ala. in 1965; James Chaney, Andrew Goodman and Michael Schwerner near Philadelphia, Miss., in 1964; the four little girls—Addie Mae Collins, Cynthia Wesley, Carole Robinson and Denise McNair - blown up in the Birmingham, Ala., church bombing in 1963.

As Heyer's mother stated, “Heather's life was about—passionately about—fairness and equality and caring, and that's what we want people to take away from this.”

Donald Trump’s reaction to Charlottesville will be etched in infamy. He refused to condemn the neo-Nazis and White nationalists, choosing only to decry the “egregious display of hatred, bigotry and violence on many sides.” The haters heard his message. The Daily Stormer, a White supremacist website, exulted that Trump “did not attack us. … No condemnation at all.” His campaign for the presidency purposefully stoked the forces of bigotry and intolerance. Now, as president, he has failed a test of simple decency. He shames a nation that is far better than that.

Some Republicans showed they know better. Conservative Sen. Orrin Hatch tweeted simply, “My brother didn't give his life fighting Hitler for Nazi ideas to go unchallenged here at home.” Sen. Marco Rubio spoke forcefully against the haters. Some Republicans even rebuked the president for his failure.

Decrying racism is necessary. Words are important, but actions are needed. Dr. Martin Luther King always warned against being satisfied with words: “Loose and easy language about equality, resonant resolutions about brotherhood fall pleasantly on the ear, but for the Negro, there is a credibility gap he cannot overlook. He remembers that with each modest advance the White population promptly raises the argument that the Negro has come far enough. Each step forward accents an ever-present tendency to backlash.”

The terrible church bombing in Birmingham was denounced, but King pushed us to keep our eyes on the demand for civil rights reform. The hoses and clubs of Selma were decried, but King kept his focus on pushing for the Voting Rights Act. Denouncing hatred is important, but we need to focus on who is prepared to act.