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Thursday, Aug. 17, 2017 12:08 am

Vigil at city hall

Citizens honor victims of Charlottesville

Rev. Sarah Isbell, of Chatham United Methodist Church, leads the crowd in prayer at Sunday’s rally while flanked by her fellow speakers.
PHOTO BY LEE MILNER

 

On Sunday, Aug. 13, less than 24 hours after a “Unite the Right Rally” in Charlottesville, Virginia, exploded into violence resulting in one death and multiple injuries, more than 300 Springfield citizens gathered at the fountain outside of city hall for a vigil and rally to honor the casualties. The mood was somber but hopeful with a diverse crowd responding positively to a group of speakers ranging from activists to clergy to city officials and one gubernatorial candidate.

The event was hosted and organized by the groups Action Illinois, Indivisible Illinois, Black Lives Matter and Springfield Call 2 Action. Debbie Bandy – who founded Action Illinois with the late M.T. Vann on the November Saturday after Donald Trump won the presidency – acted as M.C. for Sunday’s event, which began with a moment of silence “in honor of those who lost their lives, who were harmed – either physically or emotionally by the events that occurred in Charlottesville.”

The first speaker, Rev. Sarah Isbell, pastor at Chatham United Methodist Church and member of the Greater Springfield Interfaith Association, wasted no time in naming what she believed to be the root causes of the events in Charlottesville. “We must say ‘no more’ to the evils of racism and white supremacy,” she said. “Racial terrorism – bigotry, hate and white privilege – have built walls that divide the powerful from the oppressed and keep us from seeing each other’s faces.”

State Sen. Daniel Biss, who is running for governor, recounted the story of his grandmother’s family’s 1944 imprisonment at Auschwitz. “When I see pictures in 2017 America of people holding their right arms in the ‘heil Hitler’ Nazi salute, that is not just a picture from a history book for me, that is a story that pierces to the core of my soul,” he said, with palpable emotion. “You shouldn’t have to be Jewish, with a grandmother who survived the Holocaust and great-grandparents who didn’t, to know that black lives matter,” he continued. “We are one human family. An attack on one race is an attack on all of our humanity.”

Teresa Haley, president of the Illinois State Conference of NAACP said, “Today reminds us that racism still exists. This type of behavior will not be tolerated,” she said. “Not in our city, not in our community, not in our state.” Doris Turner, Ward Three alderman, was similarly blunt. “Having lived six decades as an African-American woman in America, I know racism, I know bigotry and I know hatred, up close and personally,” she said. “But I never, ever thought that in 2017 we would witness the actions that have been occurring throughout our nation and most horrifically this week in Charlottesville – something that can only be called domestic terrorism.”

Juan Huerta, communications director for the City of Springfield spoke, on behalf of Mayor Jim Langfelder and the city council. “We want to let you know that we won’t tolerate this type of behavior in Springfield, Illinois,” said. “I’m an immigrant from Panama. What happened yesterday is not what this country is all about.”

Sunshine Clemons of the Springfield chapter of Black Lives Matter, encouraged the crowd to call their representatives, including those in the White House, asking that white supremacist groups be labeled as terrorist groups. “You can do it from home or on your cellphone or on your Bluetooth while you’re driving,” she said.

Springfield poet Shatriya Smith declined to read a new poem written after the Charlottesville attack, deeming the content “too feisty” for the event and instead sang a soulful “song of inclusivity.” “I am truly traumatized and truly grateful,” she said. “There are so many faces of friends in this crowd who believe that my life matters and the life of my child matters. I am no longer two-thirds of a person, I am 100 percent worthy to be appreciated as a human being. We are not separate, we are not different.”  

Scott Faingold can be reached at sfaingold@illinoistimes.com.

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