Yorkers react to Charlottesville violence

Junior Gonzalez
York Dispatch
  • Local progressive leaders condemn recent acts of violence in Charlottesville, Va.
  • One person criticized Rep. Scott Perry, saying his statement didn't go far enough.
  • Activists say the racism is not exclusive to the south, but thriving in York County.

York-area activists and representatives are reacting with alarm after acts of violence in Charlottesville, Virginia, over the weekend.

Marta Peck, a coordinator with the progressive group Indivisible York, said she was “horrified” when three people were killed after white supremacist and white nationalist groups violently clashed with counter protesters Saturday, Aug. 12.

The violence was spurred when a group of white nationalist groups protested a decision by the Charlottesville city council to remove a statue of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee from a city park, according to The Associated Press.

Peck said she believed the collective of white supremacist, white nationalist and neo-Nazi groups known as the alt-right have been given free range by a lax social code espoused by President Donald Trump.

Rev. Dr. Christopher Rodkey speaks to dozens of people attending the York Stands in Solidarity candlelight vigil on the steps of the York County Administration building on Market Street, Sunday, August 6, 2017.  The vigil was held so show solidarity against the white nationalist groups who marched in Charlottesville, Virginia, Saturday. John A. Pavoncello photo

“The extremist right feels empowered by this administration,” she said. “This cannot stand. We need to speak up, because this is not acceptable.”

More:York Stands in Solidarity vigil planned Sunday

More:Man accused of ramming protesters pictured with racist group

More:Trump faulted for not explicitly rebuking white supremacists

Too close to home: Carla Christopher, a local activist who recently oversaw the fourth-annual Equality Fest in York City, said the protests in Charlottesville are history repeating itself.

“The images are terrifying,” she said. “The idea of (people) coming with open flame and swarming at night. For people of color, history is our boogeyman.”

She added the protests initially prompted her to make sure she had enough food and water to stay safe for several days in case of a revolt that could make its way to the area.

Christopher said outright racism is not a thing of elsewhere but an issue at home. She said she has seen a Confederate flag the size of a car windshield hung on West Market Street in York City in the past week.

“It’s their way of letting me know that they’re here and that they’re watching and waiting,” Christopher said.

“(Charlottesville) doesn’t feel far away to me.”

In this photo taken Friday, Aug. 11, 2017, multiple white nationalist groups march with torches through the UVA campus in Charlottesville, Va.   Hundreds of people chanted, threw punches, hurled water bottles and unleashed chemical sprays on each other Saturday after violence erupted at a white nationalist rally in Virginia.  (Mykal McEldowney/The Indianapolis Star via AP)


Christopher Rodkey, a pastor at St. Paul’s United Church of Christ in Dallastown, said he was outraged at what occurred but was not surprised that such violence is still occurring in America.

“There are white racists all around us. It doesn’t make it any less outrageous, (but) the bottom line is this isn’t anything new.”

He said the rise of white supremacist groups can be tied to last year’s presidential election, and although he doesn’t blame Trump, Rodkey said he is disappointed in how the president has handled race relations during his administration.

Representative response: Peck criticized the “simple” response to the violence by Rep. Scott Perry, R-Dillsburg, who released an eight-word statement on Twitter: "We must be united against bigotry and hate."

“I’m extremely disappointed that Rep. Perry didn’t say more than eight generic words,” she said, adding that not pointing out the white supremacist and neo-Nazi groups plays into the hands of racists.

She, however, commended the condemnation from several Senate Republicans, including Utah Sen. Orrin Hatch and Pa. Sen. Pat Toomey, who referred to the violence as “vile, unacceptable” racism.

Torch-wielding protests Friday night by the white nationalist demonstrators in Charlottesville continued into Saturday morning, when rally supporters encountered counter demonstrators. By Saturday evening, one woman had been struck by a car and killed, and two police officers perished in a helicopter crash related to the protests.

The scenery of torch-wielding men on the campus of the University of Virginia gave pause to Peck.She said the view faintly reminded her of the Kristallnacht riot against Jews in Nazi Germany.

“It feels like unless we stop this, (that) is a path that we could go down,” she said.

Rescue personnel help injured people after a car ran into a large group of protesters after an white nationalist rally in Charlottesville, Va., Saturday, Aug. 12, 2017. The nationalists were holding the rally to protest plans by the city of Charlottesville to remove a statue of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee. There were several hundred protesters marching in a long line when the car drove into a group of them. (AP Photo/Steve Helber)


Christopher said the difference between the violence that occurred over the weekend and other incidents is the pride flowing from white supremacist circles into the streets.

“There were no hoods, these were people who had their faces out. It was that they felt no fear,” she said.

“That to me is the most important development about this. This was deliberately and specifically public,” she said.

Peck's group Indivisible York will be holding a vigil for the victims of violence and oppression Sunday at the York County Court House at 28 E. Market St. in York City at 8:30 p.m. The public is welcome to attend.