Saturday, August 12, 2017, James Fields drove his car violently into a crowd. He struck and killed 32-year-old Heather Heyer. I send her family my condolences today as they grieve the loss of their daughter.
36 others were injured in this tragedy
Reports are emerging about the humiliating, racist, and abusive encounters among demonstrators. In summary, Heyer and a group of others were peacefully protesting a white supremacy rally when a car driven by Fields (Ohio) rammed the crowd killing Heyer and injuring others.
The University of Virginia, Charlottesville, the State of Virginia and our entire country share sorrow because of this event. It disheartens us and breeds an unsettling fear to wonder what manner of hate is happening in our country that would result in such violence toward each other?
It is not a matter of politics but a sure indication something is clearly wrong.
Since I am originally from Virginia and grew up in that culture. I, too, feel a great loss that this happened in Charlottesville, a city with significant history and home for one of our quality universities.
What is so disconcerting to me? What we are seeing in Charlottesville seems to reflect our country’s growing polarized momentum. We are more at odds than I have seen in a years.
It is difficult to understand because we know from our past how racism truly leads to violence and national discord. It spreads hate and promotes further emotional and physical trauma creating untold victims.
Such racial strife is the inevitable result of hate and fear, which unchecked fosters more of the same in greater degrees. It always impacts families and children.
What are our children and teens learning?
As we hear the stories of the events of last Saturday, I am concerned what messages are being sent to our teenagers and children? Some may feel fear or anger, but others could consider it permission to join movements of hate and racial discrimination.
We might think that these negative messages are not transmitting nor having impact until we realize that James Fields was only 20 years old. He had just passed being a teen and now is charged with second degree murder.
His life will never be the same.
Neither will the family of Heather Heyer, as they bear the loss of their daughter due to Field’s violent action. Even those of us who did not know her mourn.
How did Field’s hate begin?
It began with those who entered James Field’s private world. The plied him diligently to instill such negative messages. They created a convincing active voice that lead him to think creating such pain, hurt and devastation to so many was the answer.
I could ask all kinds of questions about his life, but it certainly awakens us to the reality how young and impressionable are the hearts and minds around us.
We need to guard our youth by teaching and demonstrating values that give all humans the dignity and respect for life that God intended for us. To do anything else not only devalues others but also wounds society as with such events we experienced last Saturday.
It is our responsibility to create environments of safety, peace, unbiased acceptance and understanding with those who are different than us.
We need to counter messages of violence and racism with messages of understanding and peace. Most of all, we need to realize that we have young eyes watching us and what we do. As families, school staff and community members our actions serve as examples so others learn what to value, how to show respect, and how to contribute to the lives of others in a positive way.
We have seen lives impacted forever by what happened in Charlottesville! We need to learn from this experience how to be vigilant in our commitment to society in the values, respect and care of each other. As we have seen this past week, many lives will depend on it.
Gerry Vassar, President/CEO, Lakeside