Honking cars, waving people and shouts of encouragement could be heard and seen from Turlock’s Central Park Monday evening as 130 community members peacefully gathered to dispel racism in light of recent events in Charlottesville, Virginia.
A clash between participants in a white nationalist rally and counter protestors Saturday in Charlottesville resulted in the death of one woman, and two state troopers also died as a result of the day’s events.
Heather D. Heyer, a 32-year-old paralegal from Charlottesville, was killed when a car driven by a white nationalist plowed through a crowd of counter protestors, and 16 others were also injured in the attack. Lt. H. Jay Cullen and Trooper Berke M. M. Bates were in a helicopter monitoring the rally when the helicopter fell and burst into flames, killing both of them.
In total, at least 34 people were wounded in the clashes, which stemmed from a planned rally organized in opposition to a plan by local officials to remove a statue of Robert E. Lee, the Confederacy’s top general. The forces behind the rally included white nationalists, white supremacists, members of the Klu Klux Klan and self-identifying Nazis.
The group of people that convened in Central Park Monday evening set out to promote love and unity, rather than hate rhetoric, said Ann Strahm, a professor at Stanislaus State and member of local activist group Be the Change Turlock. Similar rallies in towns across the country have taken place, with community members standing in solidarity with Charlottesville.
“What we are out here doing is just saying, ‘We understand what you’ve gone through and we don’t want that in our town,’” said Strahm. “We’re trying to promote not just a ‘no hate’ zone…instead of being against hate, we’re more interested in being for love.”
Traevor Carlton, also a member of Be the Change along with Indivisible Stanislaus, said that as with everywhere else in the country, racism has revealed itself to him in Turlock throughout the years.
“I think a lot of people have woken up to the fact that white supremacy is real, the dangers of it are real and the violence that comes out of it is real. We actually do have Nazis living in this country,” said Carlton. “Racism affects me in Turlock all the time…I’m Middle Eastern myself, so I hear comments like ‘terrorist’ and people saying that Muslims are coming into the country and endangering us.”
Both Carlton and Strahm hoped that the solidarity rally Monday evening would catch the attention of Congressman Jeff Denham, who has not yet publicly responded to the clashes.
“We really want to pressure our Congressman into voicing his opinion about white supremacy and Nazis so that they can be held accountable, and maybe even pass some kind of progressive legislation to prevent these things from happening,” said Carlton.
Turlock resident Terry Langpaap fought in Vietnam, and said that it’s “irritating” to see white supremacy becoming normalized throughout the country.
“Even though we didn’t want to go to Vietnam, we had to go because we believed in our country…as time goes on, you realize your country isn’t exactly what you think it is,” said Langpaap. “You go and you do your job, so when you see Nazis trying to come back, it’s just frustrating.”
“Everyone should be able to have their rights and believe what they want to,” he added. “But if Nazis want to believe in Nazism, go for it, just leave me out of it and the rest of us out of it. Do your thing behind closed doors and be happy.”
The group at Central Park sang songs, lit candles and displayed signs reading phrases like “There is only one side to white supremacy: hate” and “Justice for ALL” to the cars driving down Golden State Boulevard and East Main Street.
The 130 people gathered consisted of residents from Turlock, Modesto, Oakdale and other Central Valley towns, and the vigil was just one of 700 others nationwide.
“We’re here to stand in solidarity with all of the people who feel worried or marginalized, like minorities and people that feel threatened by the uprising of white supremacy,” said Carlton.