Rev. Dr. Phil Craig of the Greater Springfield Church closed the rally with a prayer. Photo by Trone Dowd.
BY TRONE DOWD
Following a weekend of chaos in Charlottesville, Virginia that was spurred on by a rally populated by white supremacists and neo-Nazis, frustrated young Queens residents joined elected officials at Jamaica’s King Manor Museum on Tuesday night to denounce bigotry and slam President Donald Trump, who walked back criticisms he had made of the Virginia rally earlier in the week.
At the “Unite The Right” rally that began on Friday in Charlottesville, white supremacists bearing Confederate flags and Nazi emblems took to the streets to protest American diversity in the name of preserving “white culture.” The situation escalated as the weekend went on as counter protesters showed up. The two sides clashed, resulting in brawls and bloodshed across the city. The violence culminated on Saturday when white nationalist James Alex Fields, Jr. drove his Dodge Challenger into a crowd of protesters, injuring 19 and killing 32-year-old Heather Heyer.
Organized by the Queens County Young Democrats, the Tuesday event in Jamaica gave attendees an outlet to voice their frustrations with the violent protests that raged on in Charlottesville.
Stacey Eliuk, of the QCYD, said that the event was meant as a reassurance that basic American ideals would not be something from which the group would stray.
“To see the legacy of people like JFK or Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., even the civil rights movement as a whole, be tarnished and drifted away from is very disheartening,” she said. “But we as people in politics and government and as citizens, we need to turn to ourselves right now.”
Eluik said that she hoped to see people unafraid to unite against the hate groups that caused violence in Charlottesville over the weekend.
A visibly upset Amir Abbady, vice president of diversity and outreach for the QCYD, said that he was “sick and tired” of the unabashed bigotry coming from white supremacist groups.
“I never want to see this kind of bigotry in my country again,” Abbady said. “Every time they march, I want us to march back. Every time they make hateful speeches, I want to talk about unity and diversity. Every time they show up to the polls, I want to outnumber 10 to one.”
Abbady also called out what he perceived to be the failures of his party leading up to November’s presidential election, citing it as the “reason why we are in the situation that we are in.”
“This happened because we did not show up,” he said. “We didn’t present the alternative vision for this country that we needed to. We have an opportunity to do this again this year, next year and in 2020. Every time there is an election, we need to be at the polls to ensure that we elect a government that represents all of us.”
Numerous elected officials turned out to show support. State Sen. James Sanders Jr. Sanders (D-South Ozone Park), started with a moment of silence for Heyer before praising the counter-protesters who attempted to derail the hate rally and responding to Trump’s statement that some “fine people” had taken part in the Charlottesville rally.
“The best of America was in those protesters—beautiful people who, perhaps, didn’t have an individual stake in the race,” Sanders said of the counter-protesters. “Those of us who have studied history, we know where this road goes. We are not going back to a time where the gays were in the closet, where woman better stay in the kitchen or in the bedroom, where the blacks knew their place and where we don’t even talk about the Latinos.”
He said that the United States crushed the Nazis during World War II and will “undoubtedly” do it again.
A frustrated Councilman I. Daneek Miller (D-St. Albans) said that Queens is the ultimate counterpoint to white nationalist rhetoric.
“We have demonstrated here, the most diverse county in the country, time and time again that we know how to live together,” Miller said. “This is the template of what America can be.”
Assemblywoman Alicia Hyndman (D-Springfield Gardens) said that Trump was at fault for walking back his denouncement of the rally.
“This president has emboldened this behavior,” she said. “Let’s not deny that.”
Hyndman said that the toughest part of seeing the events in Charlottesville unfold was trying to explain it to her children, the youngest of whom is a 7-year-old girl.
“The biggest question that we have to ask ourselves is, ‘What is my role?’” she said. “Because everyone can play a part in what happens in our future.”