Which right write is right?

In Charlottesville, what isn’t the debate?

By Sarah Sidlow

Overwhelmed by the Charlottesville news cycle recently? Likewise. Let’s catch up.

On Saturday, August 12, white nationalists gathered in Charlottesville, Virginia, for a “Unite the Right” march. Turns out, a few other people were there as well: counterprotesters, opposed to the views and actions of white nationalist groups turned out in droves. There was taunting and name-calling. Then a brawl.

And at 1:45 p.m. James Alex Fields Jr. of Maumee, Ohio drove a car through a group of counterprotesters, killing a woman named Heather Heyer.

Cue wall-to-wall media coverage: videos of the crash, viral photos of confrontations between demonstrators and counterprotesters, interviews with Heyer’s friends and family, rebukes of President Donald Trump. With so many responses, it’s easy to get caught up in the noise and lose sight of the takeaway message.

So, what isn’t the debate, here? Here are some ideas:

It isn’t the statue: Some people want to blame this one on Robert E. Lee—or at the very least his statue, which the city of Charlottesville planned to dismantle in an effort to appease residents, city officials, and organizations like the N.A.A.C.P., who called for its removal. Lee and his colleagues have seen a resurgence of press recently, as similar debates surrounding confederate flags and civil war statues in the south have erupted over the last few years. Those opposed to the removal of these icons argue that they represent part of America’s southern heritage. But others say that focusing on the statue detracts from a much larger issue: America’s uncomfortable history with race.

It isn’t the president’s (lack of) response: While numerous government officials, private sector executives, and public figures were quick to condemn the violence in Charlottesville, President Trump was uncharacteristically slow to respond. He did release a mealy statement Saturday, which claimed the clashes were the result of “hatred, bigotry, and violence on many sides.” Which made a lot of people say: “what?”

Almost 48 hours after the explosive violence, and after waves of criticism from all sides (the CEOs of Merck, Under Armor, and Intel, and the head of the Alliance for American Manufacturing all walked away from Trump’s manufacturing council as a result of Trump’s lack of response) Trump tried again—this time successfully naming the KKK, neo-Nazis, white supremacists, and other hate groups as “repugnant to everything we hold dear as Americans.” A lot of folks argue this is way too little, way too late, and highlights Trump’s alarming pattern of hesitation to condemn hate groups. But others claim this is another instance of the media jumping at the chance to make President Trump look incapable—and at the expense of a seriously traumatic event.

It isn’t free speech: Sometimes, people use really cringeworthy events, statements, or pieces of art to make a case about free speech. Basically, you don’t have to agree with what I’m saying, but you have to respect my American right to say it. But things get complicated when you introduce the idea of hate speech—that is, speech which attacks a person or group on the basis of attributes such as race, religion, ethnic origin, sexual orientation, disability, or gender. There isn’t actually a constitutional protection against hate speech, but there is a clause that singles out “fighting words” as not OK. Also, remember that saying: “if you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all”?

Reach Dayton City Paper forum moderator Sarah Sidlow at SarahSidlow@DaytonCityPaper.com.

Question of the Week: What shouldn’t  the debate be regarding the Charlottesville protests?

Other locations

By Patrick Bittner

In the age of social media and decades into the 24-hour news cycle, information and judgements can be made at a reckless pace.  This is extremely present when dealing with the flood of news that came out of this weekend’s attacks. What was not talked about though, was the idea of group blame. The individual who rammed his car into the crowd of people in Charlottesville was identified, however wrongly, of being from a small town in Ohio. That town, Maumee, sits across the river of the same name from where I grew up. I cannot agree more with the Mayor of Maumee who, in an open letter, decried the violence and felt it necessary to remind everyone that the views of the driver, who was not even a resident of Maumee, were not the views of the town and that they were not tolerated in the town. This is mind boggling. That a truly inaccurate news story can lead to condemnation and judgment of a town of 15,000 people is in-and-of-itself deplorable. We cannot allow our instant sagacity to be clouded by the misdeeds of a single individual. The sins of a son are not the sins of his town.


By Terri Gorden

The debate regarding the Charlottesville protests really should not be about racism, nor discrimination on any basis—that has technically been settled—through our own Civil War and through two world wars. To continue fighting the issue is costly, not only of time and resources, but of our reputation and leadership position internationally.

More important, it goes against the Constitution of the United States of America—the piece of paper upon which this country was founded, and for which numerous citizens have given their lives. To violate its premise that all men were created equal, and that each was to be free to pursue life, liberty, and happiness, is to violate America herself.

To subjugate others has been proven detrimental to society again, and again, and again. Oppressed groups are unhealthy groups. Unhappy groups that drag the entire population down—like a cancer. And at some point, the whole has to stop what they’re doing and address it in overt fashion. I would argue it is best to encourage and assist everyone in finding their bliss, in satisfying their physical and emotional needs, so they can, in Maslow’s words “self-actualize,” and contribute to the betterment of the human condition.

Historic statues

By Dave Landon

In the aftermath of Charlottesville, where an ugly display of racism by white supremacists and neo-Nazis led to the death of one young woman and injuries to dozens of others, it seems the country has now officially lost its way. All across the country groups are demanding that statues of confederate soldiers be removed from public places. Even other historical figures from our past such as Washington and Jefferson are under attack as former slave owners.  They act on a belief that removal of these historical monuments will somehow remove the blight of slavery from our history as a country and as a people. To state the obvious, running away from our history will not solve the problems that are causing our racial divide.

When the Framers met to deal with the failing Articles of Confederation, 11 of the 39 were slave owners. The words in the Preamble of the new Constitution reflected their challenge. “… in order to form a more perfect Union” It wasn’t a perfect union, and they understood that as long as slavery existed it could not be. However they created a framework for the idea of America, as a land where freedom is paramount and could be nourished.  To understand who we are, we must not allow our history to be brushed over.

Confederate monuments

By Missy Mae Walters

This is not about the Confederate monuments and their offensiveness. If it were, I am pretty sure there was a period of eight years recently where the majority of them could have been taken down. Taking down these monuments is not going to solve the problem of racism and prejudice. It is still going to happen with or without their presence.

As  the left continues to lick their wounds over the 2016 election, they are becoming more and more aggressive as we dive further into the Trump presidency. They were stunned their candidate lost months ago but now the hostility is boiling over as the reality is becoming unbearable.

What this is really about is some people believe not everyone is guaranteed the same freedom of speech rights they are. Whether you are a member of Black Lives Matter or a Neo-Nazi, both groups are equal under the Constitution. Despite how crazy one group might seem to the other, they each have the right to assemble and protest, whether some like it or not.

Those rights and privileges are given to all American citizens for a reason. I fear this is only the beginning of something much worse as we both wipe our history and question our freedoms.


By Ben Tomkins

This is not about the Founders owning slaves. The philosophies of the Confederacy are best summed up by Alexander Stephens, whose Cornerstone Speech made it abundantly clear what the “War of Northern Aggression” was really about:

“The prevailing ideas entertained by [Jefferson]…were that the enslavement of the African was in violation of the laws of nature. Those ideas, however, were fundamentally wrong. They rested upon the assumption of the equality of races…. Our new government is founded upon exactly the opposite idea…its cornerstone rests upon the great truth, that the negro is not equal to the white man.”

The Founders were flawed men, but a fuller realization of their ideas is what Civil Rights is all about. We need monuments to optimism, not privilege and stagnation. To end with a favorite Jefferson quote (one on his monument, incidentally) “… laws and institutions must go hand in hand with the progress of the human mind. As that becomes more…enlightened, institutions must advance also to keep pace with the times. We might as well require a man to wear still the coat which fitted him when a boy as a civilized society to remain ever under the regimen of their barbarous ancestors.”

Trump and racism

By Tim Walker

The debate rages in public, on the news, and on social media: statues, Nazis, Trump, racism. We all have our opinions about what happened a week ago in Charlottesville, about how our nation should be reacting, and about what is REALLY going on. One thing I’m sure that the national conversation should not focus on is whether Donald Trump, the President of these United States, is a racist. Would anyone be surprised to find out he is? None of us can pretend to know what goes on inside the man’s head, if anything, or inside his heart, presuming he has one. As human beings, we are all flawed creatures, and each of us carries around within his head a lifetime’s worth of prejudices. We know fear. We do not trust each other. Too often, we pretend to like each other. No perfect man has ever sat in the Oval Office, and none ever will. But racist or not, in his position as the president, Donald Trump must be able put aside his own personal beliefs and attitudes, and lead this country away from the dark chasm we’re approaching. I have no doubt that Trump is as flawed a human being as has ever occupied the White House, and it is up to him to either fall prey to those flaws, or rise above his own beliefs and be the leader this nation desperately needs.

Good guys and bad guys

By Don Hurst

Charlottesville is not about good guys versus bad guys. It’s easy to think that, since Nazis suck. However, the alt left “antifa” movement practices an ideology just as insidious. They advocate the use force to silence the constitutional freedoms of others. That makes them thugs not heroes.

The Constitution protects the free speech of Nazis; just as it protects the civil rights of child molesters, murderers, and rapists. A nation proves its character not by how it treats the respected but in how it handles the despised. Antifa’s supporters shrug off the fact they brought baseball bats and bricks to a peaceful protest because they were fighting Nazis. By that logic we should be okay with cops beating up on drug dealers.

Antifa has repeatedly demonstrated that violence is not just reserved for Nazis, but for anyone who disagrees with them. Rioting in Berkley to stop one man from speaking. Physically attacking Trump supporters (who weren’t white supremacists) in Portland. Normalization of violence endangers everyone, including peaceful protesters trapped between antifa and Nazis.

The heinous crime that took the life of Heather Heyer was the fault of one man, but the violence in Charlottesville was the work of many.

Robert E. Lee

By Ehron Ostendorf

This should not be about Robert E. Lee’s moral character. This isn’t whether or not his ideologies sparked this violence. Robert E. Lee had loyalties to three things: his family, his state, and then his country. His family resided within Virginia and Virginia voted to secede. So his loyalties were then pulled towards the South which became his country. He has been quoted saying, “So far from engaging in a war to perpetuate slavery, I am rejoiced that slavery is abolished. I believe it will be greatly for the interests of the South. So fully am I satisfied of this, as regards Virginia especially, that I would cheerfully have lost all I have lost by the war, and have suffered all I have suffered, to have this object attained” (HistoryNet). Although Lee wasn’t part of the abolition movement, he believed that slavery would end regardless of which side won. So he should not have been a gathering point for white supremacists, nor should he be blamed for the violence that ensued. General Lee was not a white supremacist; he does not embody white supremacy and should not be attacked for something he did not believe in.

Resurrecting the confederacy

By Tim Smith

While watching the endless replays of the Charlottesville riots and the analyses that followed, one thing struck me. The Confederate flag was being enthusiastically waved by many protestors and I could hear them shouting that the South would indeed rise again. I didn’t realize that it was down, but that’s beside the point.

For those who are light on American history, the Confederacy existed from 1861 – 1865. It was originally comprised of seven southern states who seceded from the northern states in response to President Lincoln’s proclamation to abolish slavery. Plantation owners feared that this action would result in a negative financial impact on their cotton and sugar cane crops. It took the Civil War to end the Confederacy and re-unite the country.

The Charlottesville protest began over the planned removal of a statue of Confederate hero Robert E. Lee, but the ensuing debate is not about resurrecting the Confederacy. Virginia is not the first state to remove statues of Confederate leaders or dictate where you can display Confederate flags, nor will it be the last. What we don’t need at the moment is another reason to divide the country any more than it already is.

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Ben Tomkins is a violinist, teacher, journalist and critically acclaimed composer currently living in Denver, Colorado. He hates stupidity and generally believes that the volume of one’s voice is inversely proportional to one’s knowledge of an issue. Reach Ben Tomkins at BenTomkins@DaytonCityPaper.com.

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