VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. (WAVY) — Communities across Hampton Roads came together Sunday to stand up against hatred and show their support for Charlottesville after violent clashes in that city this weekend.
More than a hundred people attended a unity vigil near Virginia Beach Town Center. The event, hosted by Hampton Roads Grassroots Progressive Coalition, lasted more than an hour and included prayers, a moment of silence, and singing. Religious leaders, community members, as well as people who were in Charlottesville attended the vigil.
Organizers said they wanted to give people in Virginia Beach the chance to grieve, recover, and figure out how to move forward. Police said 20-year-old James Alex Fields Jr. drove through a crowd of counter-protestors in Charlottesville Saturday, killing 32-year-old Heather Heyer. Before the crash, demonstrators clashed at a rally where a group that included white nationalists opposed the removal of a Confederate statue. Virginia State Police said Troopers Jay Cullen and Berke M. M. Bates — part of the police effort — died in a helicopter crash outside the city later in the day.
Vigil organizer Ron Roe says Sunday’s event in Virginia Beach was a good start.
“I know there are other meetings happening today in Williamsburg and Newport News, and I’m sure all over the country as well, but I think what we need to do again, as one of our speakers suggested, is understand that these folks are not going to give up and so we as a community need to come together and figure out how we’re going to address this problem,” Roe says.
One of the speakers at the vigil, Elizabeth Gordon, said she was with counter-protestors on the street in Charlottesville and heard the car crash that killed Heyer.
“We didn’t know what happened. I saw the crowd half a block ahead of me compress. We thought it might have been a bomb. We thought it might have been a tear gas canister. We didn’t know what happened and we turned and we ran. It was terrifying,” Gordon said. “When I see this (vigil) today, it helps a bit. It’s going to be a long time of processing. There was a lot of trauma for a lot of people,” Gordon says.
Williamsburg Solidarity Alliance says that over 200 people showed up for a vigil at Merchant’s Square. In Newport News, Peninsula Voices for Change held a rally in the downtown area of the city.
Numerous officials and political candidates joined the group, Middle Peninsula Against Hate, for a rally in Gloucester.